Kate’s Review: “Very Bad People”


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Book: “Very Bad People” by Kit Frick

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: In this dark academia young adult thriller for fans of The Female of the Species and People Like Us, a teen girl’s search for answers about her mother’s mysterious death leads to a powerful secret society at her new boarding school—and a dangerous game of revenge that will leave her forever changed.

Six years ago, Calliope Bolan’s mother drove the family van into a lake with her three daughters inside. The girls escaped, but their mother drowned, and the truth behind the “accident” remains a mystery Calliope is determined to solve. Now sixteen, she transfers to Tipton Academy, the same elite boarding school her mother once attended. Tipton promises a peek into the past and a host of new opportunities—including a coveted invitation to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society that looms over campus like a legend. Calliope accepts, stepping into the exhilarating world of the “ghosts,” a society of revolutionaries fighting for social justice. But when Haunt and Rail commits to exposing a dangerous person on campus, it becomes clear that some ghosts define justice differently than others.

As the society’s tactics escalate, Calliope uncovers a possible link between Haunt and Rail and her mother’s deadly crash. Now, she must question what lengths the society might go to in order to see a victory—and if the secret behind her mother’s death could be buried here at Tipton.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I had some pretty grand plans for myself nearing the end of March. I secured a solo trip up to the North Shore, bringing a book stack and my Kindle and thinking that I’d spend my days in nature and my evenings reading… Well, my faith in good weather was foolhardy, as that first day it was snowing and the wind chill made the temperatures outside feel like it was 18 degrees. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that, being Minnesota and all. But it DID mean that I got a LOT of reading done, and when I sat down with Kit Frick’s newest book “Very Bad People”, I found myself tearing through my eARC. The pacing was great! The mysteries were appropriately engaging! We had a secret society with some potentially nefarious members! Spending all the time inside was turning out okay for me…. Until we once again hit the dreaded ‘and it all falls apart in the last third of the book’ situation.

As per my usual strategy, I’m going to start with what I liked. And the potential for this story just oozes off the page. It has so many things that work for me on paper. I love boarding school thrillers, I love people who get in over their heads in frog in the boiling water situations, and I love moral ambiguity and questions. I also really liked Calliope as our main character, as she felt rounded and real and like someone who would be completely into being included in a secret society like Haunt and Rail. I also liked the school history and history of the secret society as a whole. On top of that, it was so fast paced and engaging that I was eager to see what was going to happen next, and how the connection of Haunt and Rail across the generations was going to come into play.

But I just didn’t like how a couple of the big arcs shook out. Like, at all. And I’m not certain if it had to do with the structure and set up feeling unbalanced with the conclusions, or straight up personal preference on my part and my own sore spots and biases coloring my judgement. I’m half tempted to go on a rant here, but am also kind of not wanting to spoil anything because I think that people would probably do better with it than I did…. What the hell, let’s just go half and half and throw in a

Skip to the next paragraph if you so choose (source)

The book opens with a recounting of the tragedy that has haunted Calliope for a few years: the car accident that killed her mother and nearly killed her and her two sisters. There has always been question as to what happened, as Calliope was asleep, and her two sisters either couldn’t remember what happened or was two young to do so. Calliope sees a man in town during a trek from the Tipton grounds, has her memory jumped, and is convinced she saw him the day of the accident. She starts trying to piece together who he was, as well as his connection to her mother, AS WELL AS her mother’s connection to the Haunt and Rail Society, which leads to the supposedly accidental death of another student during her mother’s time in the club. Calliope starts to surmise that perhaps the Haunt and Rail members had something to do with the student’s death, and her mother’s death was actually someone trying to shut her up. It’s a great premise….. But it isn’t the case. What IS the case is that Calliope’s mother was ACTUALLY LEAVING HER HUSBAND FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL BOYFRIEND AND TAKING THE KIDS WITH HER ON THE DAY OF THE CRASH. It’s all coincidence. And it’s awful. It immediately turned me off from the mother as a character who was, until that point, a formative and powerful drive for Calliope and her connection to the Haunt and Rail assholes. I get what Frick was trying to do, to say that some things are random and terrible (and it does have another connecting point, ultimately), but it left such a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t even think of myself as some kind of Puritanical scold, but once it was revealed how profoundly selfish the mother was being in wanting to uproot her kids from the life they knew with their father (with no indication that he’s a bad or even emotionally incompatible guy; HE SEEMS LIKE A REALLY GOOD LOVING GUY?), with NO actual exploration into her motivations outside of ‘oh, my high school boyfriend is back in my life and THAT’S EXCITING’, it wrecked that entire thread. Okay, I’m not going to elaborate further into the other reveals and twists and turns, but that was just too much. It derailed the emotional crux.

And then a lot of the other characters were frustrating and shrill in their characterizations, especially some of the Haunt and Rail members. It wasn’t even that their motivations and thoughts were things I disagreed with. I found myself quite sympathetic to the matter at hand, as a matter of fact! But I didn’t think that Frick did the due diligence to show enough complexity to their ‘arbiters of justice in their own minds’ themes until too far into the narrative. By then I had kind of stopped caring about their motivations and was more blinded by how their zealotry was damaging to those who didn’t deserve it, and I don’t think that it was properly grappled with.

Talk about running off the rails. There was so much promise with this book for the first two thirds. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it too much because it could just be a ‘me’ thing.

Rating 5: Lots of built up momentum and promise ends with a couple of clunker reveals.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Very Bad People” is included on the Goodreads lists “2022 YA Mysteries and Thrillers”, and would fit in on “Academia, Magic, and Secret Societies”.

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