Having loved I Killed Zoe Spanos, I knew I needed to read the latest offering from Kit Frick. Luckily for me, the lovely Nicole Valdez at Simon and Schuster sent me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Six years ago, Calliope Bolan’s mother drove the family van into a lake with her three daughters inside. The girls escaped, but their mother drowned, and the truth behind the “accident” remains a mystery Calliope is determined to solve. Now sixteen, she transfers to Tipton Academy, the same elite boarding school her mother once attended. Tipton promises a peek into the past and a host of new opportunities-including a coveted invitation to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society that looms over campus like a legend.
Calliope accepts, stepping into the exhilarating world of the “ghosts,” a society of revolutionaries fighting for social justice. But when Haunt and Rail commits to exposing a dangerous person on campus, it becomes clear that some ghosts define justice differently than others.
As the society’s tactics escalate, Calliope uncovers a possible link between Haunt and Rail and her mother’s deadly crash. Now, she must question what lengths the society might go to in order to see a victory-and if the secret behind her mother’s death could be buried here at Tipton.
TW: racism, sexual assault grooming, abuse of power, murder, death, drowning, car accident, traumatic flashbacks
Very Bad People is another heavyweight YA mystery from an intriguing voice in the genre. Frick has created smash-hit after smash-hit and this is no exception with its tight plotting and fantastic character work.
Frick wastes no time at all delving into the mystery. From the first page, she effectively sets the scene with the mystery of what really happened that day and the sudden horror and death. This family trip descends into chaos and death, the truth of which will only be discovered as you journey through. All of this makes for an intense and thrilling read from start to end. Frick’s writing style is so wonderfully concise, yet descriptive at the same time. It is incredibly immersive and fast-paced, while also allowing time for you to settle into the headspaces of these characters and empathise with them. The entire cast here is very three-dimensional and realistic, right down to the witty and sparkling dialogue between them. The setting amplifies this, with the claustrophobia of the boarding school emphasising the mystery and adding a slight Gothic touch. It feels ominous and foreboding. You always feel like someone is watching over your shoulder and can practically taste the oncoming disaster. Frick’s engaging, intriguing and cutting writing style seamlessly strings all of this together to create a riveting read.
This book has such an excellent and intriguing premise, which Frick exploits to its fullest potential. Very Bad People is a thought-provoking book that questions the line between justice and revenge, with a fascinating secret society centered around social activism and justice. I mean that entire concept is just endlessly fascinating and engaging. The discussion Frick opens up about justification and ethical reasoning for particular actions is so nuanced and three-dimensional. It is a complicated morality of guilt, loss and devastation on display here, with almost every character engaged in this spider’s web of duplicity and betrayal. You can completely understand the motivations and justifications for particular actions, but they also leave an uneasy taste in your mouth. This is not a book that allows for clean, neat and easy solutions. Instead, Frick steeps the book in that gray area where you are not really sure of the right answer. She leaves it up to the reader’s own interpretation and moral code to really decide what they align with by the ending. Speaking of which, Frick makes no exception in her ambiguity for the ending. It is left fairly open and ethically dubious, offering the ambiguity over to the reader, who in a way has become the new detective.
The central mystery is so well put-together by Frick. Of course, there are twists and turns aplenty, which are genuinely surprising and have consequences for the entire story. I liked how every action here has actual consequences, with chains of events being set off by seemingly small details. Because Frick gives you time and space to become invested in the characters, the twists pay off that much more. Frick opts for mostly emotionally devastating twists, the type that are a real gut-punch for our characters. This really works, precisely because of the character development and work you have seen play out previously. The two interlocking timelines of events adds to the sense of drama, as you have the hazy recollection of that fateful day interspersed with the actions of the present. Frick’s way of tying it all together is so clever and really plays with your expectations.
Very Bad People is one of those YA mysteries you cannot get out of your head. From its important discussions to its mind-boggling twists, Frick puts in the time and work to create something truly special.