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by Lizzie Friend
Merit Press, November 2013
288 pages
ISBN: 1440563950

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

While stories of secret societies, particularly in boarding schools, are hardly new, it seems as if the publishing industry has been publishing them in increasing numbers last couple years. The concept of a secret society of "mean girls" has been played out to the extent that an author has to work very hard to be original. In POOR LITTLE DEAD GIRLS, intended for young adult readers, first-time author Lizzie Friend explores this familiar area with some success and provides enjoyable and (mostly) believable characters - while the thriller and suspense aspects are much weaker elements in the novel.

Sadie Marlowe is sixteen years old and a star lacrosse player with dreams of going to the University of Virginia. She is offered a full scholarship to the expensive and exclusive all-girls boarding school Keating Hall. Moving across the country to the D.C. suburbs to a school full of the richest and most socially well-connected young women in the country is a daunting challenge for a girl of such modest means as Sadie - this fact is hammered home for her when she's introduced to her new roommates: the tabloid friendly sixteen-year-old twins with connections to the British Royal Family. Quickly, Sadie finds herself acclimating to the new reality of her life by impressing the tough-nosed lacrosse coach, going to extravagant school dances, and dating Jeremy, a cute guy from the neighboring exclusive all-boys school. Sadie finds ominous signs at Keaton, including a dead student whom no one wants to talk about; but the glitzy lifestyle that being a student at the Hall affords gives Sadie more than enough incentive to look past these things.

As one might expect, things quickly turn sour for Sadie; beyond the schoolgirl taunts and school hazing incidents that tend to happen in these schools (in fiction, at least), she is abducted for an evening by a group claiming to be a secret society and over the course of the school year, Sadie and Jeremy go through a laborious and terrifying induction process into this cultish society. Quickly though, the narrative broadens far beyond the grounds of Keating Hall and involves a conspiratorial angle that reaches the halls of global power. It is always baffling when authors of this type of book cannot resist the urge to go into Dan Brown territory, since the story works best when it is focused on the intrapersonal relationships and genuine creepiness of the secret societies and cliques of boarding school lore.

After the author manages for two hundred pages to build up sufficient true suspense and spookiness so that the reader truly cares and fears for Sadie, then a global conspiracy is discovered and duly disposed of in the last quarter of the book. Furthermore, the book cannot seem to decide who the necessary partner-in-crime is to be for Sadie. Her best friend, her boyfriend, and the wild roommates all seem to audition for the role, but they seem to randomly disappear for a bit at pivotal portions of the narrative, leaving Sadie the only character who functions as more than a cut-out figure.

As a debut novel, POOR LITTLE DEAD GIRLS does show some promise for Ms. Friend's future as a YA novelist, but it fails to develop a sufficient range of characters and adheres to formula a bit too much. Those who enjoy this type of story likely will not be disappointed, but will still likely find this novel to be overly familiar and rather forgettable.By the end of the novel, we adore Sadie Marlowe and want to see her in another adventure; just a smarter and better one.

Ben Neal is a librarian who likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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