BookBrowse Reviews Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

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Good Me Bad Me

by Ali Land

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
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    Sep 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Szczechowski

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Will Milly be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother's daughter.

Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her debut novel Good Me, Bad Me. All of her life, Milly has been groomed to be the accomplice of her mother, Ruth Thompson – keeping Ruth's secrets even as she struggles to comfort the children that Ruth routinely kidnaps, sexually abuses, and then murders. However, when Ruth kidnaps a child that Milly is close to, she finally breaks the cycle of abuse and turns her mother in to the police.

The novel follows the aftermath of this decision, leading up to Ruth's trial – which is sensationalized all over Britain, and in which Milly's testimony has the power to either make-or-break the case. In the meantime, she is given a secret identity (including a name change from Annie to Milly) as the foster daughter of a man named Mike who lives in London and works overtime as both her therapist and a fatherly figure. While the beginning and end of Good Me, Bad Me reads as a crime thriller, the middle section focuses more on interpersonal drama. Psychologically damaged from the time spent with her mother, Milly deals with her inner demons even as Mike's daughter, mean-girl Phoebe, bullies her non-stop. With the trial quickly approaching and Phoebe's harassment growing, it becomes apparent to the reader that Milly is more than another victim of Ruth Thompson – she is her mother's daughter. She is capable of terrible acts.

Written in both first person and second (when Milly directly addresses her mother,) Good Me, Bad Me hooked me from the start. The writing is clear and direct, but also has a quiet sort of elegance to it, and an almost musical lilt. We have direct access to Milly's thoughts, and so we learn that she is more than just scarred by her mother, she is haunted by her too. Throughout the book she argues with her mother's voice, which is stuck inside her head, trying to convince her to do terrible things. These sections are particularly chilling: "'SHE'S LAUGHING AT YOU, ANNIE, THAT'S NOT OKAY, FIND A WAY, MAKE HER PAY.' No, I don't want to. I want to walk away but instead I take a step closer to her. A current runs up and down my spine, so dead since I left you, I don't know who I am."

While we certainly sympathize with Milly, she is also an unnerving character. And although we are in her head, hearing her thoughts, Land crafts the novel in a way that keeps her secrets just out of grasp, giving us the impression that there is more to her story than what she has told both the reader and the defense attorneys. This keeps up a delightfully tense atmosphere that had me turning the pages until the early hours of the morning.

Although Milly's thoughts lend a continually creepy tone to the thriller, a lot of the book actually steps away from the genre to explore an even eerier phenomenon – the viciousness of teenage girls. While there are some greatly disturbing scenes – such as Phoebe and her friends stranding an innocent classmate at the top of a dangling rope – some of the other teen girl scenes felt dull; a less captivating counterpoint to the plot arc about the trial. And while the story is fast moving and thrilling, some of the characterizations felt lackluster. The characters seemed typecast at times – for example, Phoebe is the popular mean girl with no remorse for her actions, and Phoebe's mother is a ditzy drug addict who is cheating on her husband with her yoga instructor.

But while those character details made me pause after I finished Good Me, Bad Me, during the actual reading of it I was enthralled with the suspense and intrigue, and think fans of famed author Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects might find their next favorite read in this exciting debut.

Reviewed by Erin Szczechowski

This review is from the October 4, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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