Two teenage girls revolve around the terrible gravity that draws them together.
The latest beneficiary of publishing’s bidding wars is Australian writer James, whose personal success story has earned more ink than her debut novel. After scoring a very lucrative two-book deal, the novelist’s debut finally reaches the United States. Unfortunately, it’s a clichéd, often unremarkable bit of popular fiction. “I didn’t go to Alice’s funeral,” confesses our dizzyingly chilly narrator, Katherine Patterson, whose story leaps between pivotal moments in her life. From the present, she describes life with her young daughter, Sarah. In flashbacks, we learn her real identity as Katherine Boydell, who changed her name and moved in with her aunt after the tragedy that killed her younger sister, Rachel, whose death weighs heavily on Katherine’s conscience. In her new school, the guarded schoolgirl meets a kindred spirit in Alice Parrie, a hard-drinking free spirit who keeps her own secrets close to her chest, and has a creepy, prescient knowledge of Katherine’s true nature. “It’s as if you just don’t want to get involved,” Alice says. “As if you’ve—oh, I don’t know, got some kind of big dark secret and you don’t want to make friends with anyone in case they find out what it is.” Before long, the author cues up Alice’s inevitable makeover into a frenzied villainess. Yet it’s not all as generic as it could be. James has a particular gift for dialogue and pacing, crafting a high-school potboiler that sounds right, is geographically universal and rushes headlong toward a particularly brutal mid-book climax. However, a manipulative ending straight out of a B-movie dissipates the narrative’s early momentum.
Hollywood ingénues, get ready—a script should be available soon.