I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was the other week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
For today, I’m focusing on three darker tales, all of which revolve around a central mystery that I couldn’t tear myself away from.
Kicking things off is Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos. Thank you so much to Kids Can Press for sending me an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.
Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.
But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.
Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?
It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.
There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.
Publication Date: 3rd September
TW: conversion therapy mention, assault, murder, rape mention, drugging, violence, kidnapping, suicidal thoughts
Throwaway Girls is a YA mystery with real bite, delving into cutting social commentary and forcing you to question the imbalance around victimhood and who is considered ‘good enough’ to be a victim.
Cantos leads you down so many distracting paths, constantly keeping you guessing. One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the use of an intriguing extra POV, whose identity isn’t revealed until later in the book. This adds to the suspense and sense of dishonesty lurking behind this facade of respectability clad in privilege and wealth, which is arguably the key theme of the book. Some of the girl’s cases are dismissed and considered less important because of their social class and individual situations, rather than demanding justice for all. It calls into question who fits this ‘ideal’ victimhood and sadly reflects real life.
I really liked Contos’ writing style, which felt eloquent while also successfully capturing the essence of teenage voices. It was engaging and easy to follow along, though she threw in some narrative curveballs that hit home hard. The reveals are so well-executed and logically built up to, though I was still surprised. We delve into some dark places in the story, but I felt like this was well-handed and I would encourage readers to check trigger warnings. Contos doesn’t shy away from the ugly reality of many of these topics, but it never feels exploitative or shocking just for the sake of it.
Caroline was a great protagonist. I really liked the fact that she wasn’t perfect, but her loyalty and underlying commitment to finding justice and the truth really shone through. She’s all too human: complex, messy and scarred by her traumatic experiences. Throughout, she’s trying to find her place in the world and somewhere that accept all of her, as she has to hide her identity from her parents.
Throwaway Girls is a stimulating, complex YA mystery with uncomfortable roots in the truth of our world.
Next, I would like to talk about The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige. Thank you to Hodderscape for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches.
For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet….
When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals.
Publication Date: 5th January
TW: violence, death, blood, gaslighting, cancer
The Ravens is a thrilling, dark and complex mystery about the dangerous allure of power, combined with an empowering ode to sisterhood.
At the heart of this book lie our two protagonists: Scarlett and Vivi. I thought the use of dual narratives, which are reflected by the co-creation of the story, really enriched the book and made it stand out from other fantasy-mystery hybrids. Their voices are so strong and really pulled me into the story. Vivi allows you to learn all about the coven and its history, while Scarlett suffers under the weight of her family history and certain skeletons in her closet. They’re surrounded by a great ensemble cast, who are nuanced and given room to grow beyond their first impressions.
I really enjoyed the magic system used in the book and was fascinated by its basis in the tarot deck. All of this added to this brilliantly modern and fresh take on witches. As someone who adored American Horror Story: Coven, this perfectly matched its essence. The way that sorority life (something which has always interested me, albeit from a distance) and the more supernatural elements combined made for a fascinating tale. Both authors wove a thrilling tale, where there are shades of grey and plenty of secrets to uncover. The twists and turns gradually ramped up the tension, though you’re on uneasy footing right from the start.
This is a celebration and embracing of the inherent power within women, making it a fierce rallying cry. I’m really excited to see where the story goes next, with the ending promising plenty more mischief to come.
The Ravens is a bold reminder of the strength we get from being united and leaves enough tantalising plot threads that I’m excited to see where this coven is heading next.
Finally, I want to talk about the elusively entrancing Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.
But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.
Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?
The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.
Publication Date: 7th January
TW: murder, teen pregnancy, discussion of abortion, emotional abuse, parental abuse, fire, gaslighting, gore and body horror
Burn Our Bodies Down is the type of book that weighs on your mind long after the final page. This is an insidious book that festers, with its creepiness slowly encroaching and filling you with dread.
I’m realising that among Power’s many strengths is her ability to craft an atmosphere so strong and cloying that it essentially becomes another character. Here, the claustrophobia of a small rural town packed full of secrets permeates every word. Right from the start, there’s a sense that something just isn’t right. The atmosphere hums, like that before a storm. This instantly drew me into the story and from then, I was hooked, not wanting to leave until I had uncovered the secrets of Phalene.
Through Margot’s story, Powers has created an impactful exploration of the cycle of familial abuse and trauma, inherited through generations. The impacts of it can be keenly felt constantly and drive this cycle of violence and abuse. Horror as a genre often allows writers to explore societal issues and Power utilises this tool of the genre perfectly.
There’s just something I adore in Power’s writing. It’s bold, but also has this softer, quieter undertone that allows for all the more devastating emotional impact. She crafts complex characters that are often flawed and allowed to be three-dimensional. Margot is no different, as she begins her quest for the truth, but she’s also deeply impacted by the actions of her mother and Phalene only exacerbates this, as she discovers her family’s twisted history. Seriously, the story gets dark at times and the big reveal is just earth-shattering. It becomes one of those talked-about moments that I instantly wanted to discuss with someone.
Burn Our Bodies Down will leave you reeling, as exquisite twist after twist upends everything you thought you knew, in this thoughtful exploration of abuse tinged with mystery and horror. This is like nothing you’ve read before.