What begins as a dark comedy, with a viciously cruel cheerleader found dead (clad only in a coconut-shell bra and a grass miniskirt), takes a surprise flashback turn into raw emotional honesty.
High school junior Emma is totally fine with her divorced mother’s newly discovered bisexuality, but why does her mom’s new girlfriend have to have such a complete hellbeast of a daughter? Quinn’s not mean in the sense of petty or snarky but in the sense of “full-throttle mega-mean girl with acid spit and laser eyes.” A hot, popular, white cheerleader, Quinn happily destroys lives; her homophobic, racist, fatphobic vitriol is the least of her nastiness. Emma—a fat, studious, white fan of comics and Doctor Who—wants to keep things civil for the sake of her mom and Quinn’s, but she sees only two options: being complicit in Quinn’s destructive behavior or becoming its prime target. Emma’s blossoming in the face of her semistepsister’s spite seems at first to be a straight-up Heathers-style bitch-clique comedy, but Quinn’s death shocks her into some painful introspection. Without ever excusing Quinn’s (or Emma’s) sins, Darrow’s dark novel forces its readers to see beyond character cliché. The macabre black humor is spot-on, while the subverted tropes rework edgy nihilism into a sniffle-inducing recognition of humanity.
Another smart, savage winner from the author of The Awesome (2015). (Fiction. 13-16)