Book review: The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

DSC05973I’m sure the publishers of The Good Girl wanted to be the new Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Hey, books with girl in the title and a vague sense of mystery are the hot thing, right? However, this book is nowhere near in the same league as those two. I’m not necessarily saying either of them were the height of great literature, but I am saying that this book is truly, truly terrible. I’m gonna put a lot of spoilers below the cut to explain why it’s so bad, so you can look away if you don’t want to know-or you can just read the review and be glad you didn’t waste time on it.

The story focuses on the name family who have three adolescent children. The middle of these, 17-year old Romy, is the focus of the novel, along with her burgeoning relationship with her next-door neighbour, who is the same age. We are told early on that something terrible has happened to the family, some dark secret or other, and it’s hinted throughout that it’s something to do with this relationship. Romy’s mum Ailsa is also a point-of-view character but she’s just horrendous as a character for all the reasons the book is terrible.

Alarm bells started ringing for me when the neighbour confessed to Romy that he had a secret he was really ashamed of: that he had an addiction to porn. No, seriously, this is a “dark secret”. Now, you might expect that someone, somewhere along the line would tell him that he doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of, or that a lot of teenagers and adults watch porn, or explore if addiction is actually a ‘thing’. But no, this really is treated like a terrible, terrible thing and one that has the potential to ruin his sex life forever, like every scare story about porn and boys you have ever read. Romy not only feels repulsed by it, she sees it as her mission to cure his sexuality by trying to sleep with him.

Basically, this is every single Daily Mail ridiculous moral panic article you have ever read about porn damaging children et cetera et cetera rolled into one. It’s just ludicrous. I thought there was going to be some kind of twist or reveal a resolution that turns on its head, but no. It is just the Daily Mail writ large – the Mail call the book ‘shocking’, btw, and it is, but not in the way they presumably meant.

To compound matters, the scandalous secret about the family? Remy has been doing naughty things on camera with the neighbour and it’s gone viral, because everything ‘goes viral’ when people who don’t use the internet write about it. It is clear that both of these teenagers, over the age of consent, are BAD AND WRONG for the way they explore sexuality – it’s not just the porn and the self-vids that are frowned upon, they look at each other naked in the window in an early scene and they’re also damned for this. Seriously, you half expect the solution to be chastity belts for all under-21s or something. Perish the thought normal 17 year olds would act like, well, normal 17 year olds and this would be acceptable (I’m not saying there couldn’t be emotional consequences, I’m saying that moral panics and OTT scaremongering are not a nuanced exploration of issues or characters).

God, this book is just so awful and preachy and patronising and moralistic in a very,
very particular way.

I’m not saying you couldn’t write an interesting book exploring teens and their relationship with porn or with sexuality, or sexual selfies, you could definitely do it in a fairly nuanced way and explore the different angles and debates around these issues rather than treating them as such blanket negative black and white, over the top hysterical nonsense.

There isn’t even really a good storyline to justify the moral panic. Honestly, this book is just hideous. Avoid like the plague.

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