July 09, 2023

Sam Beckbessinger & Dale Halvorsen: "Girls of Little Hope" (ARC Review)

Title: Girls of Little Hope [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sam Beckbessinger & Dale Halvorsen [Sam's site | Sam on Goodreads | Dale's site | Dale on Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Sci-Fi, Contemporary, Horror
Year: 2023
Age: 14+ (please note: this is dark YA - you may want to take a look at the WARNING! section)
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Realistic teen characters/relationships. Bold twist on a classic horror trope.
Cons: Requires suspension of disbelief both about the twist and the way a pivotal problem gets fixed.
WARNING! Death (animal death too...sort of). Blood, gore and violence. Body horror. Bug horror. Burns. Self-harm. Domestic abuse. Trans-generational trauma. Underage sex. Pregnancy scare.
Will appeal to: Those who like Nova Ren Suma's brand of female teen protagonists, Stephen King's brand of horror and Christopher Pike's brand of weirdness.

Blurb: Being fifteen is tough, tougher when you live in a boring-ass small town like Little Hope, California (population 8,302) in 1996. Donna, Rae and Kat keep each other sane with the fervour of teen girl friendships, zine-making and some amateur sleuthing into the town’s most enduring mysteries: a lost gold mine, and why little Ronnie Gaskins burned his parents alive a decade ago. Their hunt will lead them to a hidden cave from which only two of them return alive. Donna the troublemaker can’t remember anything. Rae seems to be trying to escape her memories of what happened, while her close-minded religious family presses her for answers. And Kat? Sweet, wannabe writer Kat who rebelled against her mom’s beauty pageant dreams by getting fat? She’s missing. Dead. Or terribly traumatised, out there in the woods, alone. As the police circle and Kat’s frantic mother Marybeth starts doing some investigating of her own, Rae and Donna will have to return to the cave where they discover a secret so shattering that no-one who encounters it will ever be the same. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Titan Books for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

PUSHING THE LIMITS

Here's a fact for you: teen horror is on a roll, and has been for a while now. I think the main reason is that YA horror authors have taken to use the genre (and in this particular case, its tropes) to frame and enhance coming-of-age stories with tridimensional and compelling protagonists - an art that (most) YA thriller writers haven't mastered yet, at least in my experience. Girls of Little Hope is an excellent example of this genre-blending attitude: it starts off like a mystery, then adds a strong layer of teen characterisation, and ultimately punches you in the face with a familiar, but nonetheless unsettling horror trope, only to twist it into something that ties in with the characters' arc (call it a rite of passage if you will, though of a brutal and decidedly peculiar sort). [...]

TROPE BENDER

At the heart of Girls of Little Hope is the friendship among "wannabe rebel" Donna, "wallflower nerd" Kat and "preppy church girl" Rae - all fifteen years old. They couldn't be more different if they tried, but have bonded over their sense of displacement and their desire to push the boundaries of their boring, stifled lives in a small town (also, the story is set in the '90s - the book's chapters are even named after song titles from that decade! - and the sexism and prejudice of the era are accounted for, though at the end of the day, small towns probably haven't changed much since then). Each of the girls is interesting and relatable in her own way: Donna is the daughter of a single father and the owner of a grown-woman body who isn't about to get shamed for either; Kat is a former pageant queen who was finally able to leave the spotlight behind and to regain control over her life by turning herself fat; Rae is the closeted lesbian daughter of an ultra-religious family who cuts herself to relieve the pressure she's put under. The authors manage to elevate all three beyond the tropes they embody, so that they feel real and nuanced, and their friendship messy and fierce enough to give them even more depth and make the reader believe in them - and in it.
The fourth main character is Kat's mother Marybeth, on a quest to find her missing daughter; her chapters manage to put her relationship with Kat in perspective (especially when it comes to the whole pageant queen affair) and to bust yet another trope, but I found myself questioning her place in the novel at first, based on the appeal her character could have for a YA audience...until her pursuit came to an end and produced an outrageous twist that - again - had a lot more than shock value going for it, besides forwarding the plot in an unexpected, yet necessary direction. 

LAST-MINUTE QUIBBLE

Admittedly, as much as I enjoyed this book, I have mixed feelings about the ending. I mean, yeah, it's off the beaten path, fitting and even empowering in its own way, plus it ties in with the friendship theme at the core of the story, but at the same time I thought that the characters I'd grown to love deserved better. The main issue I have with it, though, is that I can't see how a certain plan could work - or more precisely, be brought to completion (the novel doesn't explain the logistics, which is a good choice, on a purely narrative level). All in all though, it's just a small detail in the face of a gripping, disturbing yet heartwarming story - and I can't wait to see what the authors will come up with next (not to mention, to buy a copy of this book for my collection and for future rereads...).

For quotes from this book click here.
For more books that defy categories click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Gwendolyn Kiste: "The Haunting of Velkwood"Matteo L. Cerilli: "Lockjaw".

16 comments:

  1. When I was a teenager I read a whole lot of horror probably some of it was young adult horror and I just didn't realize it because I was getting a lot of the books from the school library. I don't read a whole lot of horror anymore but I know the appeal I can see it and every once in awhile I'll read some horror and probably enjoy it. This sounds like it was pretty good though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, YA horror has been around for a long time, though I suppose it was a bit tamer back in the day (except for Christopher Pike's LOL).

      Delete
  2. Bug horror lol. I shouldn't laugh, but can't help it. Not a fan of buggies. I like the idea of the song title chapters headers. And yeah small towns probably don't change much. Here in Amrica I feel like they're dumpster fires lately lol (sorry small town lovers out there). Nice to see the tropes handled in a good way.

    The ending- huh. Curious now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I HATE bugs - there's a Supernatural episode called, indeed, Bugs, that I've always refused to watch, though I love the show and I've watched all of it multiple times. Then again, I can tolerate them in fiction - as long as I don't have to look at them, I'm OK...

      Not only small towns though, am I right? But I guess it's worse for those...

      I know you're more of a thriller and sci-fi reader, but you also tend to enjoy books with "girls" in the tile, so this one could be your thing! Joking, but also not...

      Delete
    2. That Creepshow segment from the 80's freaked me OUT.

      Ha I never realized that but now I'm going to look back... do I gravitate to titles with "girls" in the cover? Maybe I do!

      Delete
    3. I do remember a few, but maybe it's just that they're more noticeable...

      Delete
  3. 90s music was so good, so I approve of the chapter titles. So glad to hear you enjoyed this book. I mean, 4.5 is stellar from you (you are tough). Sorry the ending fell a bit flat for you (unable to suspend your disbelief here?), but it sounds like it was well written otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I mean, 4.5 is stellar from you (you are tough)."
      πŸ˜‚ I am!

      The ending didn't fall flat...I just had some issues with it, but regardless, it was fitting and sort of bold - it didn't take the easy way out...

      Delete
  4. I agree, YA horror seems to be everywhere these days. The trick is finding the good ones. I'm so glad this worked for you! I'll have to check it out, since it's completely new to me😁

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's everywhere...and it's good. As opposed to YA thrillers, that are everywhere, but far more tropey...

      New to you? I know you don't read much YA, but I'm surprised! Normally, you would introduce new books to me LOL.

      Delete
  5. I can't believe I still haven't read a YA horror before, they've clearly been killing it in the genre. This one sounds really cool, especially the fact that the characters seem very trope-y (kind of giving The Breakfast Club vibes) but subvert them and turn out to be more. That feels very 90s to me. I also love the idea of chapter titles being songs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I can't believe I still haven't read a YA horror before"
      You haven't?!? That need to be corrected! πŸ˜‚ πŸ˜‰ Seriously, if you can stomach horror, you'll find a number of gems in the genre.

      Delete
  6. I agree! YA horror is having a moment and has more depth (for me) than most adult horror.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it's because authors have started to pair YA horror with coming-of-age themes...a smart choice.

      Delete
  7. Yeah, I can see how horror could be used to enhance coming of age stories, now that you say it. Glad you enjoyed this one so much and that the characters had such great nuance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It took me a while to connect the dots, but yeah...I guess thriller/mystery YA could do the same, but maybe less effectively (or authors haven't taken that route yet). Thank you!

      Delete

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