Plain Bad Heroines

Morrow. Oct. 2020. 640p. ISBN 9780062942852. $27.99. HORROR
To say that the Brookhaunts School for Girls has a cursed history would be an understatement of outrageous proportions, but watching that history unfold in Danforth’s (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) immersive novel is a creepy pleasure from start to finish. Framed by its fictional place and by the real 1902 memoir of Mary MacLean, a controversial best seller that laid bare her bisexulaity, the novel crafts a tale that follows three linked story lines: the 1902 death of two young lovers at the school, the making of a horror movie about said students in the present, and the backstory of the women who founded the school. While intricately plotted in theory, in practice it is an effortlessly compelling read, anchored by the engaging, unnamed narrator, who speaks directly and conspiratorially to readers. At its heart, this is a novel that asks audiences to contemplate how all stories are told. Which horrors are real, which are imagined, and which are consciously constructed?
VERDICT With a pointed female focus, an unease constantly seeping in from the perimeter, spilling fear all over the page at key moments, and characters who leap off the page, this volume will be sure to inspire many fans. Comparisons to Marisha Pessl’s Night Film or Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger are spot on, but this will also appeal to fans of dark speculative tales such as Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep and Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth.
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