"The Lives of Desperate Girls" by MacKenzie Common
The first chapter of The Lives of Desperate Girls chilled me to the bone. Set in the northern Ontario winter, this chapter details the discovery of a body covered in a dusting of pre-dawn snow. It read so honestly and vibrantly that I was sure that the rest of the book would keep pace.
Sadly, I was mistaken.
I really have got to stop forming opinions so early on.
The premise of the book as a whole was engaging. A small town in Northern Ontario, from which a “white” girl is currently missing, experiences another tragedy when a “native” girl is found dead – almost certainly murdered.
The way in which the story was told, however, really made this book hard to truly love.
Overall, the narrative was exceptionally inconsistent.
While there were some really compelling pieces, there were also these large segments of perfunctory and utilitarian text that were just… clunky. Unfortunately, the author couldn’t have just cut these sections. For each one, there was a purpose… It was just that the purpose could have been accomplished so much more eloquently.
I do acknowledge that not every element within a plot can be narratively compelling. In this case, though, these necessary-though-not-exciting (and, TBH, not terribly well written) chunks were so weak that they really stood out in contrast to the comparative strength of the more compelling pieces.
I found myself actively questioning, “Why didn’t the author spend more time on this section?” The word choice was off. The tone didn’t match. And it just... was not fun to read.
And it’s not just the quality of the prose that was an issue – the overall believability also varied wildly.
Near the start of the book, the protagonist details a traumatic experience that set her best friend on a self-destructive path. This section felt true and honest. It was nearly as good as similar works, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, or Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson, which we previously awarded 5 out of 5 cocktails.
But unlike these other books, the author fails to maintain this believability throughout.
For example, later in the book we are supposed to believe that our protagonist just happens to meet the cousin of the native girl who was just found dead as this cousin hitchhikes home at the start of a snow storm.
Were it just one such occurrence, you could chalk it up to serendipity. But there are only so many instances like this that can take place in the course of a 310 page book while still giving the novel as a whole the ring of truth.
And, unfortunately, as the book progresses it only got worse. The protagonist, upset by the death discovered on page 4 and frustrated that this girl’s death isn’t getting as much attention as the disappearance of her white friend, mounts an investigation in an attempt to find the killer.
How do I even describe this “investigation”?
You know in movies when the lead character needs someone’s email password, so the character looks around the person’s desk, sees a picture of the person’s dog, types “Fido” in to the password field and (voila) the email opens? That’s kinda how believable the investigation as a whole seemed.
So, I’m reading along, thinking, “Okay… This is going to get better.”
And then it jumped the shark.
The protagonist’s mother finds out that she’s launched a DIY murder investigation and she’s okay with it.
When I was 16 my mom didn’t let me go to Meijer’s in PJ pants, but I’m supposed to believe that this mother is all, “Well, you can try to find out who murdered this girl, but be safe about it.”
Yeah, I don’t think so.
Despite this shark jumping, I read on. #NotAQuitter
I kept thinking that, of course, all of these loose ends would come together into something meaningful.
Well, *Spoiler Alert* they didn’t. Or at least not in any satisfying way.
As the book drew to a close, the author started to spell things out. Like, painfully explicitly.
Now, granted, the intended audience for this book is young adults, but even when writing for less experienced, less worldly readers, explicitly telling the them what conclusions they are supposed to draw from the tale you laid out feels like pandering.
Ultimately, this book left me wishing that it was something more than it was.
The setting was well described and the plot had serious potential, but the author failed to drive home a satisfying read.
I give it a disappointing 2 out of 5 cocktails.
One thing I have to give this book is that the description of the setting made me long for snow – although maybe not a Northern Ontario amount of snow. What book do you want to cuddle up with next time the snow traps you indoors? Tell me in the comments, below.
On to another book. Check out what I'm reading on Goodreads.