Campus Mystery Readalikes: "Good Girls Lie" and "Academy Girls"

The Fiction Addiction

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Good Girls Lie(novel cover from the publisher)

Ash arrives, after the tragic and mysterious deaths of her parents, at the start of term and is immediately subjected to new classes, new classmates and obscure prep school traditions. (Slightly spoilerish note: I thought Ash’s slang  and speech patterns were a bit odd for an upper-class girl with a titled father, and at first I thought the author had lumped all British phrasing together, but the reveal makes it all make sense.)

One thing I really enjoy in prep school gothic stories is that any creepy clue could be ghosts, silly pranks or evil classmates. Here, though, it was definitely evil classmates. Boredom and academic pressure, combined with their priviledged protection from any real consequences, leads the students to endless social manipulations, ranging from seniors-only areas and hostile seating arrangements to twisted hazing rituals.  I thought the yes-mistress and general cruelty of secret hazing went a bit too far, and I wasn’t totally sure why anyone put up with it. Like in The Furies, I wasn’t quite compelled by the toxic friendships and I just wanted our protag to ditch the mean girl(s).

Still, there are so many unrelated secrets at this school, and so many characters with developed, hidden agendas to make this a great pageturner. The minor characters pursued their own goals, and weren’t just foils for the main plot. I really liked it, until the last bit of the book. I found the ending unsatisfying, where the novel changes from a thrilling pageturner with an unreliable narrator who’s probably keeping something back, into a soap opera where EVERYTHING IS LIES. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted the prep school secrets, and I enjoyed most of it, I just wasn’t quite on board with level of drama in the finale.

Academy Girls(novel cover from the publisher)

Reading Good Girls Lie reminded me of a similar novel, Academy Girls, so I had to reread it. Elements of class and privilege emerge in this story about prep school life.

There are really two narratives unfolding in Academy Girls. In one, Jane Milton is a teenage student, running around with her two best friends, reading poems (with the intensity that poetry can have for teenagers), obsessing about their English teachers’ lives, and investigating a murder that might have happened on campus years ago.  There are layers of secrets, from the students sneaking a beer or a smoke, to a cheating scandal, to a hit-and-run, and more.

In the other storyline, Jane Milton has returned to campus to teach English. Out of work and deeply in debt after her ex-husband’s, uh, financial irregularities landed him in jail, Jane knows this job is her last chance. She’s given all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) suggestions to work the kids hard and give them all As, because that’s how the funnel into the Ivies works. The students, far from caring about poetry and school history, are disaffected and privileged, and without any resources of her own, Jane discovers a new side of the school.

The two stories unfold together, revealing the school’s secrets in both timelines. Such a great read.

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