Happy New Year, and a review(ish) of Plain Bad Heroines

TL/DR:

New year, same shit show. 

First book of the year: Plain Bad Heroines

Very very fun read with many excellent queer women characters, but the ending comes out of left field (which I never like) and didn’t give a very satisfactory explanation for…..much of anything. BUT I would still 100% recommend this to anyone looking for a big fat fun escapist read.

It’s a new year! We’re going to behave as if it’s normal to pick up where I left off back in, oh, AUGUST OF 2020. I won’t beat around the bush………things got dark during the last few months of the year (as if anyone would be surprised by that information.) I did read a few books, but not as many as usual. I didn’t post much- on here or on the Bookstagram. Basically I just worked, doom scrolled, studied, doom scrolled, played with my kid, doom scrolled, told my husband to stop doom scrolling, doom scrolled, told my parents to stop doom scrolling, doom scrolled, voted, and doom scrolled.

I DID manage to survive another retail holiday season, decorate the house for Christmas, get straight A’s in my classes (this has never before happened ever in my life,) and keep my kid alive and happy. And while I was pretty annoying and needy- my husband did NOT kill me. So. There are some 2020 wins.

Anyway- so glad it’s FINALLY 2021 and everything is magically better and we’re all happy and taking care of each other by wearing masks and washing our hands staying home and we’ve ended systemic racism and world hunger and members of QAnon have seen the light and cracked open a book and our democratic institutions are safe and sound!

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……okay. 

So maybe my usually rock solid grip on reality is still slipping a smidge.

But I’m going to write about a book! I was given a copy of Plain Bad Heroines (by Emily M. Danforth) for Christmas and it was the first book I finished this year. She was a chonker, clocking in at a cool 640 pages.

 

In a nutshell:

PBH centers around a cast of queer women involved in the making of a Blair Witch-docustyle movie about the making of a regular movie based on a book written by a teen prodigy based on a cursed all-girls school in the 1900s that saw a string of student deaths that may or may not have been related to another book written by another teen prodigy (a century before.)

Did you follow that?

This book is like an ogre. Or an onion. Or….dare I say, a Matryoshka doll? It was a wild ride, and for the most part, a lot of fun to read. Don’t let my terrible summary scare you off- it’s not difficult to follow the story.

Things I liked:

The writing.

What can I say, Danforth has a way with words and wit. I ate it up.

The footnotes.

WHAT?! Tessa! You hate footnotes in fiction! Yes. This is true. Normally, I hate them. But also normally, they are factual and condescending as fuck. Yes, Kevin Kwan, I’m looking at you. The footnotes in PBH were often humorous and tongue-in-cheek and sassy. They were witty remarks from a narrator, not notes to readers who are clearly assumed to be of subnormal intelligence. End rant.

(Although- I got the impression at the start of the book that we would find out who the narrator was. Did anyone else get that feeling?)

The characters. 

Literally all of them, even the ones who weren’t super likeable. They are all queer women, and they are all wonderfully developed and interesting. Prickly Merritt Emmons, celesbian Harper Harper, insecure Audrey Wells, school principal Libbie Brookhants, and made-a-deal-with-the-devil Alex Trills- none of them were flat, and I enjoyed them all. 

The one thing I didn’t like:

The ending. 

Here’s the thing. I have a personal preference for books that come together at the end and make me say things like, 

“HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT COMING?!” 

or,

 “WHAT THE HELL! THAT WAS SO DEVIOUS AND MASTERFUL AND SNEAKY!!!” 

I like endings that make things that happened earlier in the story all of a sudden make a whole lot of sense. I don’t care for endings that make me say things like, 

“THAT CAME OUT OF LITERALLY NOWHERE.” 

or, 

“ WELL ISN’T THAT TERRIBLY CONVENIENT.”

or, 

“WHERE THE FLIP DID THAT COME FROM?!” 

I remember thinking to myself  around page 500 or so, “Where the actual fuck is this going and how is she going to wrap this up in 140ish pages?!” Turns out, I’m not sure where it went and I’m not sure it is wrapped up. PBH’s explanation (?? Is that the right word ??) for the Brookhants curse is one of those resolutions that comes out of nowhere, instead of coming from intricate clue-dropping and twisty storytelling. It’s just not the kind of ending I like.

It felt a bit to me like Danforth bit off more than she could chew, and while I was mightily entertained and happily following along for the majority of the book, it came to a screeching, random, and dis-satisfactory halt for me. I don’t mind ambiguity in an ending, but the ambiguity at the end of PBH felt less intentional and more like a side effect of a less-than-crafty resolution. 

Still, there is a LOT to love in this book- so if you’re into horror-comedy, multiple timelines, sapphic lit, gothic storytelling with fun illustrations, this is worth your time. And then you can come back here and argue with me about the ending.

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