Book: “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Waters
Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, December 2019
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley
Book Description: A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.
Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…
In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.
That belief got Becca killed.
It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.
The night Heather killed her.
Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!
I’ve spoken before about how my childhood was distinctly lacking in spooky urban legends about my community and neighborhood. I don’t know if that’s just larger city living or if I was surrounded by people who didn’t have time for such nonsense, but I do feel a little sad that we had a serious lack in fun, innocent creepy stories (and instead contended with actual creepy stories, like the flasher who’d jump out at joggers on the path by our house). I think that because of this I am especially drawn to stories with scary local folklore themes, and that was the main draw of “The Dead Girls Club” by Damien Angelica Walters. Well, that and the description of a group of teen girls who liked to talk serial killers for funsies. I wish I had that kind of friendship as a teenager. I went into “The Dead Girls Club” with high hopes and expectations that it would meld teenage girl angst with the supernatural, and for awhile I thought it had succeeded. Until it didn’t.
But before we talk about my frustrations, I want to emphasize that “The Dead Girls Club” was a pretty fun ride for the majority of the story. It hops between timelines, that of the present day, and that of the early 1990s. Our focus is mostly on Heather, a woman whose childhood best friend, Becca, was killed one fateful summer, after telling tales of a supposed witch called The Red Lady. Becca, Heather, and their friends were part of a secret club that liked the creepy things in life, but Becca’s obsession with the Red Lady urban legend starts to take over all of their lives. Especially when it seems that this made up story may have some truth to it. In the present we see Heather have to confront this summer when she starts getting secret messages from an anonymous someone (or perhaps something) that hints to knowing the truth about what actually happened to Becca, and what role Heather played in it. We see her try to discern who is stalking her, and see how her lingering fear of The Red Lady starts to take it’s toll on her life and psyche. This is interspersed with flashbacks to when Becca first started telling the stories, and we get to see the slow burn and build up of a deteriorating friendship and what exactly happened between the two girls, which left Becca dead.
I thought that the biggest strengths in this book laid in two factors: the first was the mythology and ambiguity of The Red Lady. Walters gives us enough evidence on both sides of the coin to make the argument that The Red Lady is real, or that The Red Lady is a combination of a lonely child’s imagination run amok and the hysteria shared between friends that are looking to freak themselves out. I do think that the narrative falls on one solution eventually, but I did like that a lot of left up to interpretation for a majority of the story. The other strength was in how Walters portrayed the complicated nature that some teenage friendships can have, specifically between two girls. I know this complexity and complication pretty well from my own experience, and seeing how Becca and Heather both start to grow apart and yet still cling desperately to each other was well written and completely believable. Hell, the Red Lady story itself was a fun and scary one, with smatterings of feminist revenge and all the best ghost stories that come with it. Walters also peels back the motivations for both Heather AND Becca, and once you get to the cores of both of them the spectre of tragedy is just as heavy as the spectre of the Red Lady. They are both sympathetic and frustrating characters, and I think that is the only way they could be written.
But the reason this gets bumped down a few ratings is because, unfortunately, Walters decided to throw in one big and out of left field twist that, for me, derailed the entire story. I won’t spoil it, as I think this is still worth the read, but by the time one of the big reveals came to be I rolled my eyes and muttered a frustrated but not terribly surprised ‘seriously?’ Again, I am not a hater of well done twists. If you can set it up effectively enough that in the moment you have a ‘but of COURSE’ epiphany based on small clues that came before it, I’m going to sing it’s praises forever. But in this case it just felt like a twist for the sake of a twist, and not one that was earned. You gotta earn those twists, people. That’s the only way to stick that landing.
“The Dead Girls Club” is a creepy and unsettling story that didn’t live up to its potential. It’s still worth taking a look, and I am definitely putting Damien Angelica Walters on my radar. But it could have been stronger.
Rating 6: A creepy thriller with a fantastic urban legend at its heart, but it gets derailed by a frustrating twist ending.
“The Dead Girls Club” is new and not included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Mysteries Featuring Urban Myths/Folklore”.
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