We’re all familiar with the new sub-genre that’s come out in recent years- YA murder mysteries starring idyllic towns and preppy rich white girls. They attempt to capitalize on the success of Pretty Little Liars, the books that really made the genre popular. Some are actually quite good, some are so bad they’re good, and some are just bad. All of them, however, feature improbable house parties, expensive cars and clothes, and extremely un-diverse characters that we love to hate.
Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy is one of these. I found it on a list of 2018 YA releases, and since I’m attempting to read as many as possible, I put it on hold.
First things first, our setting. The book takes place in Cape Bonita (loosely translated as Cape Beautiful) in Northern California. Why there’s a town with a Spanish (?) name in California with no Latinas in it, I’ll never know. Our protagonist is Penelope, straight-A student, overachiever, and head of the Larks, a society at their school for the best and the brightest girls of the senior and junior classes.
(Mini-rant about the Larks- it seems very exclusionary and preferential. The senior girls choose which juniors they want to let in, and it’s stated at multiple points within the story that Penelope is only president because her older sister Peyton was the president when she attended Cape Bonita Prep.)
We’re dropped right into the story with a chapter from our anonymous killer’s point of view. We observe as they kill the first of the murder victims, Gretchen, another member of the Larks. Then, the font switches, and we’re in Penelope’s head as she traverses her school day. Everything in Cape Bonita is perfect, until news of Gretchen’s death enters the school, and with it, police officers. They’re questioning all of the students, but for whatever reason take a particular interest in Penelope.
Enter Cass Vincenti, mystery boy. Tall, dark, handsome, brooding, rumored troubled past. Everything the archetype directs, everything our darling Penny is not. Everyone advises her to stay away from him, but does she listen? Of course not. You’ll find that’s a common theme in the book.
As the story progresses, the undeniable chemistry between Penelope and Cass builds, and the body count rises. Each one a Lark. And each one pinned to Penelope.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I wasn’t crazy about this book. For one thing, the whole serial killer aspect is only using the word serial for drama. Sure, the killer seems to be targeting the Larks, but it’s a lot less methodical and exacting than, I don’t know, any other serial killer ever. The killings are messy, and follow no pattern other than Larks members and throat slitting.
Penelope was a jealous character who always seemed to be worried that people were coveting what she had- her high class scores, her mom’s fancy car, her boyfriend. She never seemed to have her own best interests at heart, which was unfortunate, because she could have saved herself a lot of trouble by listening to everyone around her. Sometimes, in a dangerous situation, you’re not as alone as you feel.