Susan McBride’s Very Bad Things opens with a quote from L.M. Montgomery’s Emily Climbs:

Secrets are generally terrible. Beauty is not hidden—only ugliness and deformity.

It’s a mystery set in a boarding school that involves a girl’s disappearance; a severed hand in a box; secret tunnels; blackmail; date rape; a star athlete set up not once, but twice; arson; an orphan who is adopted only to be orphaned again; a friendship that involves some serious one-way obsession; and, toward the end, some Phantom of the Opera–style action.

I should have loved it.

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But alas, despite all of that high-interest content, despite Whitney Prep’s EVER WIDENING lurid underbelly, despite the book’s extremely low page count…it took what seemed like FOREVER to read. It plods.

Characters rehash material again and again—both about themselves and about the various mysteries—beating dead horses and spinning their wheels. Katie-the-heroine’s father died when she was 12. I know this because it was mentioned at least three times, two of those times in the same chapter. At one point, a package is delivered to her dorm. It’s a cardboard box, tied with twine, that contains a severed hand. Later on, she hears a story about ANOTHER cardboard box, tied with twine, that ALSO contained a gruesome surprise:

It was so eerily similar to the box with the hand that Katie couldn’t shake the sense that the two were connected.

Thank you, Katie, for that astounding logical leap. We’ll all try to keep up.

Katie dates Mark, the headmaster’s son and hockey star, and despite lots of talk about how much they love each other, there’s nothing in the text that shows us why they’re such a solid couple, why they connect, what they find attractive about each other. Instead, we get scenes that would blend seamlessly into any number of throwaway paperbacks from the ’70s or ’80s:

...she pictured the grin on Mark’s face when the hockey team had clinched a spot in the state championship. He’d grabbed her hard and kissed her right in front of all of Whitney. “I’m the king of the world!” he’d said, and laughed. Katie had gotten chills.

There are similarities to Bella and Edward—Katie asks a lot of questions and does a lot of “Mark, wait!”ing, while Mark does a lot of ignoring her questions and her “Mark, wait!”s—but while there was never any question about the sparks between Bella and Edward, there are no feels to be had in Very Bad Things.

The school’s psychologist has no problem A) driving Katie off-campus to randomly interrogate an old lady whom neither of them knows, and then B) later, despite knowing their history and the ins and outs of the investigation, tells the prime murder suspect exactly which secluded cemetery Katie is currently visiting. Mark and Katie basically bushwack right up to where the police are unearthing a body, then proceed to sit and watch them for hours without getting caught. There are inconsistencies in characters’ personalities and behavior, introduced when needed and forgotten when inconvenient. I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Unless you’ve got a fan of Laurie Faria Stolarz and Lisa McMann who’s already read ALL of the other readalikes, avoid. Actually, maybe avoid it even then.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.