The Dead Girls Club, by Damien Angelica Walters

Short Take: Have I mentioned that pre-teen girls are terrifying? Because THEY ARE.

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(*Note: I received a copy of this book for review.*)

Happy Sunday my sweet nerdlings! I come to you from the depths of post-Halloween malaise and an unrelenting chocolate hangover. I don’t know about all of you, but I am not a fan of the “Halloween is over, bring on Christmas now now now!” thing that’s been taking over November for the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but I would kind of like to catch my breath and maybe have Thanksgiving in there somewhere? 

So what I’m saying is that I’ve been working myself into a righteous funk and the only cure for that, as we all know, is a delicious book. So it tickles me right down to the giblets that The Dead Girls Club landed in my lap.

Heather Cole is a child psychologist, going about her usual daily routine, when she gets an unexpected delivery in the mail – half of a “Best Friends” necklace that was worn by Becca, Heather’s preteen BFF. But Heather hasn’t seen Becca since they were twelve, and never expected to hear from her either, because Heather killed Becca way back then.

(This is not a spoiler by the way, it’s revealed very early in the book. Feel free to complain about anything else I say however, I can be pretty irritating.)

From there, the story flips back and forth between present-day Heather, who keeps getting unwanted souvenirs of that last night with Becca, and almost-adolescent-Heather, who doesn’t quite grasp all the undercurrents in her friend’s life or why Becca is so obsessed with morbid stories. What starts as Becca, Heather, Rachel and Gia getting together to give themselves the giggly shivers talking about gruesome crimes becomes something much darker when Becca fixates on the story of the Red Lady, a woman killed for witchcraft whose vengeful spirit still works spells but always exacts a horrific price. As Becca’s obsession deepens, fear and friendship are the irresistible force and immovable object – pulling tighter together even as they destroy each other, leading up to that final, tragic night.

The Dead Girls Club is a fun, twisty, tightly-plotted exploration of a society-wide phenomenon that almost nobody talks about: we are all fixated on dead girls. If you look at some of the most sensational news-making cases, from JonBenet to Laci to Nicole, there’s usually a girl or young woman with a sunny smile at the heart of it. Look at our fascination with serial killers like Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy who gleefully destroy female bodies.  And let’s not forget the cop procedural shows that almost always open with an artfully framed shot of a female corpse – manicured fingers tinted blue, a hint of thigh with a carefully centered scrape, full lips and perfect teeth being gently pulled open by gloved fingers to reveal a clue.

Even our undead, like the most recent incarnation of The Mummy or any and all vampire or werewolf movies that include the fairer sex make them WAY fairer – perfect bodies, skimpy clothes, long glossy hair, a kind of dark allure that signals seduction far more than terror.  

So is it any wonder that young girls fixate on the morbid? Deep down, they internalize from a very early age that being a Dead Girl is something special. They’ll be forever beautiful and young and immortalized in a dozen different ways in the media, a weird form of celebrity. Never mind that everyone remembers the names of the killers but rarely the victims. 

(There’s also a whole dissertation to be written on the idea that by venerating Dead Girls we’re conditioning young women to accept violence toward themselves as inevitable and even glamorous, but I just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to look too closely at that one this morning.)

Going back to the book (I swear I’m making some kind of point here), Becca’s single minded obsession with the Red Lady – victim-turned-victimizer – is beautifully, tragically, hauntingly perfect.. As the girls chant her name and their lives grow stranger, as Heather-of-today sees everything important in her life being threatened by the stalker who knows her darkest secret, well, let’s just say Vincent the cat is feeling somewhat neglected as I couldn’t focus on anything until I finished reading.

And oh duckies, the final twist left me speechless, for reasons that had nothing to do with the Milk Duds I was eating at the time. I’m not going to elaborate, but WOW. 

I did have one complaint.  I’m not sure if it would be considered a spoiler, so I’m just going to say that young girls are not always reliable narrators, and I found some of their story problematic. But overall, Ms. Walters delivered.

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and some mini Twix bars, I need to get the rest of this Halloween candy out of here to make room for pumpkin pie!)

fourhappyneurons

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