GOOD ME, BAD ME by Ali Land
Flatiron Books, September 2017
Wow, so, the Goodreads summary does not do this book justice at all. I mean, I’ll be honest, with sentences like “When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad?” I was expecting a sort of corny, mindless thriller, which would have been okay, but the reality of this novel is so much better.
Good Me, Bad Me is a dark, psychological character study of a novel. The story begins with Annie, who gets rechristened as Milly, finally deciding to turn her mother into the police, after a childhood of being forced to watch her mother abuse and murder children. Milly is placed into foster care with parents Mike and Saskia and their daughter Phoebe, who feels threatened by Milly’s presence in their family and likes to remind her that her time with them is only temporary. Milly struggles with both assimilating to her new life, and ignoring her mother’s voice which she hears inside her head, constantly urging her to indulge her darker instincts.
This is a novel about aftermath and recovery, about nature vs. nurture, and though the prose makes for a quick and compelling read, fans of the mystery/thriller genre may be disappointed at just how character-driven this is. I thought that the moments where this novel endeavored to cross over into proper thriller territory were actually the weakest – neither of the two main reveals were shocking at all, so I almost feel like this novel would have been stronger if all facts had been presented up front rather than in a “gotcha!” kind of way.
But that isn’t a criticism as much as advice on how to adjust your expectations going in. As someone who finds character studies fascinating, I loved this book. I found Milly to be sympathetic and intriguing – I wanted to get to the bottom of her, to really understand to what extent she is her mother’s daughter, but I also just wanted her to be happy.
This is a chilling, harrowing novel that I won’t forget any time soon. Trigger warnings for rape, child abuse, and self-harm, all of which are presented sensitively but unsparingly. This novel isn’t graphic, but it is relentlessly dark.
Thank you to Netgalley, Flatiron Books, and Ali Land for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.