Blood is thicker than water...
This week's post is a review of the Sunday Times bestseller 'Good Me Bad Me' by author Ali Land. Here's a taster:
Annie's mother is a serial killer.
The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.
But out of sight is not out of mind.
As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.
A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
She is, after all, her mother's daughter...
The old question of nature versus nurture
'Good Me Bad Me' is told entirely in the narrative voice of Milly, formerly known as Annie, a fifteen-year-old in foster care after turning her serial killer mother in to the police. At first I struggled with this; Milly is a confused and very disturbed girl, and the writing reflects her anguish. Short, clipped phrases show her inner turmoil and the book wasn't easy reading at first. Sentences such as 'Shifted in his chair he did. Sat up straight, him and his gut' jarred on me, but after a while I got used to the author's style. Taken from a terrible situation in which she is horribly abused, you'd think Milly's new foster family would offer her some hope for a brighter future. They are wrestling with their own issues, however, and hide dark dysfunctional secrets. Mike, her foster father, is tasked with preparing her for the trial against her mother, which he does as best he can, but Saska, his wife, is a different matter. Remote, emotionally absent, she barely touches Milly's life and in no way provides an adequate maternal substitute. The daughter, Phoebe, bullies Milly and over time the pressure on the vulnerable fifteen-year-old grows. In her head, Milly talks to her mother a lot, seeking to make sense of her fractured life but unable to break free from the woman's stranglehold over her emotions.
The book throws up uncomfortable questions, such as: should she be pitied or feared? Nature versus nurture? On the one hand, Milly is desperate for reassurance that she's not a psychopath like her mother. On the other, how can she escape her terrible start in life? As the blurb says, blood is thicker than water, and Milly has witnessed things no child should ever see. Her turmoil has to find an outlet somehow...
The plot has some frustrating elements, such as some loose ends. For example, a threat to the safety of Miss Kemp, one of Milly's teachers, is hinted at when Milly finds out where she lives. Milly considers herself slighted by this woman, giving rise to the expectation that she will attempt to exact revenge. However, this tantalising glimpse of what might have been never gets resolved, which makes me wonder why it was ever included. In addition, the ending is somewhat odd; it's hard to say much without giving plot spoilers, but I doubt Mike would have capitulated to Milly's manipulations as quickly as he did.
I also suspect Milly's behaviour would have been very different. Most of the time she is well-behaved, polite and strives to fit in with her foster family and at school. Would a girl who has been physically and sexually abused, who has witnessed murder, act this way? Would she not be self-harming, hurting others, trashing her room, etc? Perhaps the 'good me' part of her character is a little too saccharine and unlikely.
Would I recommend 'Good Me Bad Me'? Yes, despite the minor niggles. The story is engrossing and, as a debut novel, it's impressive. Definitely worth a read, in my opinion.