Friday, 7 April 2017

'Good Me, Bad Me' by Ali Land

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*This review will contain spoilers!*
'I never get why people aren't better at hiding how they feel, although it's fair to say I've had more practice than most.' 

'Have you ever dreamt of a place far, far away? I have.' 
There's a reason Annie has been dreaming of escape: her mother is a serial killer who's killed nine children in the last ten years, and Annie has been living with her the entire time.

When Annie's mother chooses her ninth victim, she picks a little boy called Daniel from the women's refuge where she works as a nurse. Annie knows Daniel - he was her friend - and he's the straw that breaks the camel's back. She goes to the police and turns her mother in, ending a decade of terror and abuse.
Annie is given a new name for protection: she becomes Milly. But a change of name doesn't change who she is inside, or the monster who made her...
Milly's foster parents, Mike and Saskia Newmont, are welcoming, but their daughter Phoebe can't wait for her to leave. She bullies Milly horrifically, putting postcards with her mobile number in sordid locations near their home, calling her dog-face at every possible opportunity, and even circulating naked pictures of her around their year group in school. But Milly faced much worse living with her mother, so she doesn't say a word. She's stronger than that. She can look after herself.
Psychologically, though, Milly is suffering. She can't sleep, she constantly hears her mother's voice in her head, and the fact that she's refusing to take her medication doesn't help anything.
As the court case gets closer, Milly finds herself reliving tough memories almost daily. Mike is a psychologist, and he thinks he'll be able to help her access the deepest parts of her brain: if she can remember all of the events that she's repressed, they could be used as evidence in court. But Milly feels uncomfortable. She doesn't want to open up, and she definitely doesn't want to be forced to remember.
Is she afraid to trust anybody, or is she purposefully hiding something?

This was a very interesting exploration of the nature vs. nurture debate, but I couldn't get on board with Ali Land's writing style.
Rather than using short sentences effectively, she often. Fragments them. In a way. That doesn't make. Sense. It's frustrating, because I thought the story was fascinating - not many writers choose to focus on female psychopaths or sexual abusers, and I'd never read anything that explored the relationship between mother and daughter in a scenario like this - but the writing was not for me.
Similarly, the dialogue constantly switched between reported and direct speech, and this threw me. The first section of the book only uses reported speech - an unusual choice, but one that I could get on board with - then all of a sudden BAM! there are speech marks and everything's confusing once again.
It feels as though Ali wanted to explore a lot of different writing techniques, but it might have been better if she'd done that throughout her releases, rather than cramming them all into her first novel.
I can appreciate why people are calling this the debut of the year, because it is harrowing and gripping and hard to put down, but the brilliance of the plot is let down by the mediocrity of the writing.
The two big twists were overly foreshadowed, so I wasn't surprised by either of them. I still found the story very absorbing, though: it was a bit like a train wreck, in that I knew what I was going to see but I couldn't look away. Milly's desperation turns her into a killer
'I'm coming to terms with the things I've done. I did them to be good, I promise, even though they were bad.' 
and opens up a great chance to discuss the difference between good and bad. If you do the wrong things for the right reasons, can you be forgiven? and vice versa: Milly's mother says that she abuses the children to show them love, so shouldn't she be pitied for her mental state rather than vilified for the way her emotions expressed themselves? This would be the perfect choice for a book club, because there's so many debatable aspects when writing about such a controversial topic.
There were a few inclusions that didn't seem necessary, though. Milly's friendship with Morgan and Saskia's affair with her yoga teacher both just seemed like they were included to fill out the story: neither of them furthered the plot, so I couldn't see any relevance in them.

This was a solid first effort, but I wasn't blown away. If you're looking for a quick psychological read that will really make you think, you'll love this one.

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