book review: Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

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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.

7 thoughts on “book review: Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

  1. Great review! I totally agree that the character study elements are easily the strongest. I also agree that the synopsis doesn’t do the book many favours. It’s far more unique within its genre than the fairly generic blurb would imply.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This poor book – it’s one of those where I requested it on Netgalley on a total whim, so by the time I got the approval email I was like ‘what the heck is this???’ and then I saw the super generic, corny blurb and was like ‘oh god, why am I doing this to myself.’ So it was such a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t believe how invested I was by the end. Sorry I had not had more faith in you, book!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, same here really. I picked it up because it was in a sale and I’d seen the cover a few times so thought it was worth giving a go. I suspect it’s one of those cases where the publishers are making it sound ‘thriller friendly’ so it’ll sell more. If they described it as a ‘dark character study about the after effects of trauma’… it’s audience would probably be somewhat smaller – though I’d have been a heck of a lot more excited 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      • Same here! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a good thriller, but I am all about those dark and psychological books. I wonder if we’re in the minority in being pleasantly surprised at the direction this book went, or if the thriller fans are satisfied as well… To be honest I’m a little surprised marketing went the “for fans of Gone Girl” route instead of the “for fans of Room” route – I think they could have gotten a lot of readers that way, too. Or maybe the Room craze is dying down…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Very true! They were definitely trying to actively draw in thriller fans, and I love a thriller too, but tend to think of them as fast paced palette cleansers in between denser literary reads (bitchy as that may sound), so was actually very pleasantly surprised that this was deeper and more character driven than the blurb would imply.

        Like you say though, it’s funny to think that whilst that pleased us, a lot of hardcore thriller readers might be pissed, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I feel the exact same way about thrillers. They’re a lot of fun, but I have to turn off my inner literary snob when I read them. 5 stars for a thriller from me =/= 5 stars for literary fiction. It’s two completely separate scales.

        I hope this book’s ratings don’t suffer too much from mystery/thriller fans who were expecting something more thrilling or mysterious. Then again, it’s been published in the UK since last year, hasn’t it? And it appears to be doing just fine. Maybe we are not alone after all!

        Liked by 1 person

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