Bad Girls Never Say Die, by Jennifer Mathieu, is a gender-swapped reimagining of The Outsiders, but it doesn’t actually rely on readers knowing the inspiration very well. (Which is good, because my main memory of reading The Outsiders in high school was vague confusion that while any real screwup meant we’d fail out of high school, never go to college, never get a decent job and be completely worthless, at the same time, fictional tuffs were high art about Life and Truth.) This book can be read by itself perfectly well.
The story is set in the 60s in Texas, but a lot of the book is about what it means to be considered a bad girl, which is part of every generation. This is part of what made The Truth About Alice so compelling. Being a “bad girl” here can mean anything from drinking to shoplifting to dating the wrong boy to wearing too much eyeliner.
Evie knows that as a bad girl, from a single-parent home, in the poor section of town, she is automatically in the wrong in all situations. Whenever the rich kids come over and start fights, it’s the local kids who get in trouble. Plus, aren’t girls always in the wrong when it comes to leading a boy on, being a tease, being a slut, or basically anything about sexuality?
When Evie is assaulted by a rich boy, a girl from a wealthy family stops him, accidentally killing the attacker in the process. The girls know that no one will believe their story of self- defense against a would-be rapist. (Evie already knows that the tuffs are blamed for everything, but even rich girls like Diane from upperclass families know about sluts and asking for it and ruining a nice boy’s life.) This new friendship begins with secrets, but quickly becomes the most important relationship in Evie’s life. It feels honest and intense.
At first, I found the tea drinkers/tuffs split a bit too heavy, but there’s enough nuance and complexity in the relationships that the story worked. Complicated teenage friendships are at the heart of this story. Teen girl emotions aren’t mocked or minimized here. It’s simply hard to be a young girl, and any other challenges, like growing up in a poor family, having controlling parents, or facing stereotypes, can be layered on top of that. But as this novel shows, even pretty, wealthy girls have intense struggles, and the story honors those struggles.
Unfortunately, I remembered enough of my high-school reading of The Outsiders to see where the story was heading. But isn’t that often the case in a tragedy? You can see it’s coming, you know it’s going to be awful, and you still hope maybe you’re wrong. I knew it was going to be a tragic ending, I was just reading to see how it got there and how Evie would cope with it. Again, teenage emotions are honored and taken seriously.
Bad Girls Never Say Dieis written by Jennifer Mathieu and will be published by Roaring Brook Press on October 19, 2021. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are my own, as always.
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