Girls behaving very, very badly.
Hannah Dexter has been lonely for so long that she doesn’t even notice anymore. She’s not an outcast; she’s a nonentity. An episode of public humiliation brings her to the attention of Lacey Champlain. Initially bound together in their hatred of popular girl supreme Nikki Drummond, Hannah and Lacey become inseparable, with Lacey the dominant member of this dyad. She transforms Hannah into Dex, replacing her Keds and Kmart T-shirts with Doc Martens and flannel. Under Lacey’s tutelage, Dex becomes the kind of girl who swipes drinks from her parents’ liquor cabinet and sneaks into clubs. Dex knows that Lacey has a dark side, but she doesn’t know the half of it, and it’s not long before this attachment takes a pathological turn. Wasserman has written a number of books for kids (Game of Flames, 2015, etc.), and she clearly sympathizes with that audience. The challenge here is that grown-ups almost never find adolescents as fascinating as they find themselves. Reading this overstuffed and overwrought book is, more often than not, as tiresome as paging through a high school diary. The fact that it’s set in the 1990s doesn’t help. The references to Nirvana and Sun-In and LA Gear sneakers create a sense of nostalgia rather than a sense of immediacy. (It was probably a good call to avoid mention of Heathers, which covered similar territory with wit and brevity rather than melodrama and extended metaphors.) The writing is repetitive—Wasserman delivers the same information over and over again—and overly florid. Indeed, the fact that the whole novel is written at fever pitch defuses the horror toward which the narrative builds. And, after hammering home the smallness of the town Dex and Lacey dream of escaping, Wasserman asks the reader to believe that this humdrum place could produce not one, but two, teen sociopaths—not just mean girls who go too far, but born deceivers and natural manipulators.
Simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming.