Contemporary, YA Fiction

The Lives of Desperate Girls by Mackenzie Commons

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by both the premise and the location of this novel. I really like novels where teens are dealing with something difficult and take it upon themselves to find out what’s really going on. I also wanted to see how the author portrays Northern Ontario; as a Torontonian who has never really gone up north, I was excited to read about what life is like there. Anyways, here is my review:

When 16-year-old Helen Commanda is found murdered just outside Thunder Creek, no one pays any attention to it. All her death does is shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is everything Helen isn’t: beautiful, wealthy, and white. The fact that Helen was from the reservation only seems to make it easier for people to dismiss her. Only Jenny Parker, Chloe’s best friend, seems to think it is important to look into Helen’s death, and so she takes it upon herself to look for answers about Helen’s life and death. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I have mixed feelings about this novel because there are a few things that the author does that I like but an equal amount of things that I don’t like. I really liked that the author highlighted the problems of the First Nations people of Canada. Not many people are aware of their struggles and the things they have endured – and continue to endure – are heartbreaking. And the author really does do justice to them: she tells it like it is. I only wish it had been told from the perspective of an actual Native and not just from that of a white teenage girl. While Jenny is definitely trying to understand and be aware of the oppression and racism that the Aboriginal people face, I don’t think she is necessarily the best spokesperson for it since she really isn’t a part of their community or culture. I wish there had been more emphasis on the way life is on the reserves and the traditions that the First Nations value, as that would have allowed the reader to see some of the wonderful aspects of their culture. However, the idea that a Native girl’s death is not as important as a Caucasian girl’s disappearance was an interesting one and I think the author did a really good job of bringing that to the forefront. I actually found the writing style compelling, even if it was confusing to follow at times what with the various jumps in time that Jenny took; it was hard to tell if something was happening in the present or if it was just a memory. I did not like the love angle that the author tried to force into the situation; it didn’t add anything to the novel and it was not well planned or executed. It was literally just two teenagers hooking up and doing drugs and drinking, none of which screams romance or bonding. I didn’t like the incompetence of the cops, and I’m not just referring to their dismissal over the case of Helen. I’m referring to the almost comical way they question and interrogate Jenny over Chloe’s disappearance; you would think adults would know how to run an investigation and ask the right questions but clearly, that is not the case in this novel. The author also takes on another topic: slut-shaming. While I think this is an important topic to discuss, I don’t really like Jenny’s role in that aspect and I wish the author had made her more … sensible or intelligent. I also didn’t really like how things were resolved in the novel because, well, it didn’t really feel resolved. I understand that not everything can have a happy ending but this just felt messy and unfinished. Overall, I think the author chose 2 very important topics to center her novel around. While the writing was compelling, the main character’s decisions as well as the actual ending of the novel left me disappointed. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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