When Amb hits college, still stinging from her high school boyfriends betrayal, she longs to fit in and be popular. She feels immediately drawn to another girl, Sully, who she feels has the confidence, power and popularity that she craves. She starts to go along with whatever Sully suggests, hoping to impress and win her approval, even as she alienates other people and engages in increasingly risky behavior. Until something goes horribly, irrevocably wrong. Ten years later, married and making a quiet career for herself, and not fulfilling her big dreams, she receives an invite to the ten year reunion, with an insistent, mysterious note from someone who wants to talk…
The book is structured with alternating chapters of Now and Then, which seems to be a really popular way to structure stories lately. It’s used to good effect here, on the whole, with the narrative and little bits of the mystery slowly coming together. It keeps you turning pages, though for me it meant that I found there was more interesting things going on in the past pages that those set in the present, at least at first.
Something I really got a kick out of in this book is the almost gossipy way that it’s written. It really captures the tone and atmosphere of college girls thinking. There are other books that use this kind of tone, but I think the author really gets the way that friendships and feelings work at this age, how competitive women can really be with each other, but hidden under a veneer of charm and niceness. It’s very real about the way that girls often compare themselves and keep secrets so that their lives look perfect from the outside. There were a couple of things the author commented on that I thought were quite funny and insightful, even as the book as a whole is more on the entertaining side.
Amb in the modern plotline is quite interesting. She’s kind of hiding out in life, her best friend and husband don’t know how she really feels, or what happened. She thinks her husband is kind of weak and she seems to be hiding her light under a bushel at work, as the expression goes. It felt like an interesting portrait of someone after a traumatic event, who might be harboring guilt. Or perhaps someone who feels guilty for another reason, and this is used really well.
I’d say this book is a little dark. After all, Amb isn’t really happy and doing well, living with what happened, and also, at college in the past parts of the story, there’s a thread of desperation, ambition and competitive feelings. Most people in the book aren’t nice at all, but hide it well, and the one person who perhaps is genuinely nice… well, no spoilers. I felt like the people in this book reminded me of people I was at uni with and friends at that age, but the amount of drugs, sex parties and cruelty was something that never went on where I studied. It makes for an addictive read, even if it’s not upbeat.
On the whole, I like this book. It’s not trying to be really deep and about big things, but it’s not stupid or too light either. It has a good plot, and though I felt like it was a bit slow in the middle at one point, I felt like it was a satisfying read, on the whole. I think if you’ve read other books in the genre, you’ll know what to expect here and not be disappointed. The ending is a little far-fetched, but I feel like that’s a trope of this genre, and it works. I think the authors focus on the way that women are sometimes outwardly nice and inwardly ruthless, unkind, makes this read kind of juicy.
Read It If: fans of the domestic thriller who like college set stories or female leads and characters will be happy with this one. I found it an enjoyable page turner.
Thank you Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC of this book for review. All opinions are my own honest thoughts. The Girls Are All So Nice Here is out March 9th 2021.