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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Book Review: 'Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls'

This review will contain spoilers. At the beginning of 2016 I ordered 'Asking for it' by Louise O'Neill on Amazon. In order to qualify for free delivery I needed something else and was recommended a book called 'Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls' (shall refer to as SN). The reviews said it was good and it wasn't expensive, so I added to basket. Around this time I was in a very bad head space; my flatmates at York Uni urged me not to read SN and to read the Harry Potter series instead. I vowed I would read SN one day when I was in a better head space.

It sat on the shelf with all my other books I haven't yet read. I am in the middle of the Game of Thrones saga; its nice to pick up a quick read in-between. I looked over at SN the other day and thought; fuck, why don't I just read it? It's light YA reading; not dense or in small print.

Well, I read it in a day. Its a fast-paced gripping thriller and not what I expected; I didn't find it dark or depressing, certainly not in the way O'Neill's Asking for it is. I just found it intriguing, eager to turn every page and find out what was going on. Two books that also made me feel like this are Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, particularly the latter, although both are in a much higher league.

SN is good, but its not 'great'; it's thrilling teen fiction, written in simple straightforward prose with language that isn't too fancy. It reminded me of '13 Reasons Why' in terms of its execution and level of suspense, however it isn't really similar in terms of content despite the title.

This book is about a girl named June, whose best friend Delia has been reported to have committed suicide. June and Delia were close for years, but grew apart over the past year, and so when June hears about Delia's death she is devastated. But things seem unclear; she suspects Delia was murdered, and so seeks to uncover what's really going on.

All the characters in this book apart from June are unlikeable and/or unreliable. You don't know who is who or who you can trust. I really liked June; she's kind, determined, smart and brave, but also vulnerable. It took me the end of the book to realise that Delia is a psychopath, or at least has borderline personality disorder. This book was really about a toxic friendship disguised as a deeply loving close one. I've written some stuff on this blog about toxic friendships and relations with people, and co-dependency.

June and Delia's friendship was 100% co-dependent. It rested on Delia being possessive and controlling, and June being super in awe of her and doing whatever she says. Around the end of the book, in third person it states that when Delia first saw June in her class at school, 'she wanted to eat her.' Yeah, that's fucked up. It wasn't love, it was obsession, in a similar way to Edward Cullen with Bella and Humbert Humbert with Lolita. (Wow, all three of those tales are in such different leagues, yet all portray toxic relationships).

I did warn there would be spoilers. Halfway through the book June realizes Delia wasn't actually dead - she faked her suicide to 'escape from her life.' Her motive is that her step-dad raped her and abused her mum, and threatened to hurt Delia. Faking your own suicide is a bit insane, but at least that level of trauma would drive someone to have such an extreme motive. June spent the first half of the book trying to hunt down who killed Delia. I did suspect that Delia may actually be alive, although I didn't twig that Delia is - well, evil and selfish, frankly.

Because it is later heavily implied that Delia lied; her step-dad didn't rape her, and June realises that. Delia rounds up her new friends - the ones who had also faked their own suicides to escape broken lives and would help her forge a new identity - to kill her step-dad. He yells and pleads, insisting he didn't rape her. A real rapist wouldn't be so honest, they would probably try to gloss it up or just not give a shit. I think he was a shady character, as was nearly everyone in this book, and possibly a pervert based on previous observations from June, however he was unlikely a rapist.

Delia stated that she 'killed' William (her step-dad) in order to get June's attention. It was all about June. When possessive psychopaths find a person to 'own', they struggle to let them go. They will make everything all about them. June was the perfect 'bunny rabbit' to Delia's 'fire', a great metaphor used throughout the book. Delia is described as being scared of fire - it's never revealed why, although I thought this might be due to some sort of trauma she experienced as a child. (The Hound, anyone?)

Lynn Weingarten; the author. 
So why did Delia and June suddenly grow apart? Well, June started dating a guy named Ryan. Delia got jealous, naturally; her best friend was no longer giving her all of her attention. So the three of them got drunk together and Ryan and Delia kissed. Now, because none of these characters are reliable, we don't know if Delia initiated it, if they went all the way; if Ryan tried to pursue her. Based on what is told of Ryan's character, I don't think he's evil; he's a bit shit for getting with his best friend's girlfriend, but I reckon most of it was instigated by Delia. Delia probably tried to frame Ryan into making it look like he was in the wrong, all to win June back. She kept saying that Ryan 'broke' her and June up.

There is a part in the novel where June reflects on after deciding to let Delia go after the incident - and choosing Ryan - she felt free. She was free of this awful possessive woman. Maybe Delia was the one who came onto Ryan and threatened him. Or was very clever - she is described as charming, charismatic and outgoing; someone who people are drawn to. Psychopaths are very attractive - not just physically - to others; they have to be to lure people in.

Then there is Jeremiah; he is Delia's boyfriend shortly before her 'death.' He doesn't know she is alive and is shown to be insane with grief. He claims Ryan and Delia were sleeping together but June says they weren't - its impossible to tell who is telling the truth here. Most of the story is told from June's perspective, but there are some scenes where we see Delia's internal monologue and she describes Jeremiah as harmless, almost laughably disposable. She describes her later girlfriend - Ashling - in the same manner; Ashling loves Delia but Delia does not love her, she is clearly just using her to get what she really wants: June.

Image result for toxic girls friendship
Why Delia is so obsessed with June one cannot really know. They both have shitty home lives; June's mum is an alcoholic and her dad isn't around, and Delia's step-dad also seems to have a drinking problem. Its also implied her mum perhaps doesn't pay much attention to her. However, if Delia is a psychopath, she won't appreciate people whether they are kind or not. Her points of view can't really be trusted.

The ending was a bit weird and confusing; I had to read online discussions to understand it. Delia killed William, and also killed Jeremiah but made it look like an accident, not to mention fucking up Ryan's life by spreading a rumour that he watches animal porn. (This was through the help of her runaway buddies who were skilled in computer hacking). All this was ultimately to get June back. With Ryan gone, Delia could have June forever. Delia knew June loved her and wanted her, and that she was trapped; after seeing those crimes she was complicit in them. June had no choice. She had to fake her own death and leave with Delia and the gang, or else be killed by Delia. Delia implicitly states this by holding out a gun. June could not go out and live a normal life now; she was an accessory to murder, but also Delia would never let her go.

At the end, a suicide note is shown to be written from June. Presumably this is a fake suicide note. There is also some speculation that Delia killed June and Ashling forged the note, as she is skilled at replicating people's handwriting. I like to think that June ran away with them, out of fear but also because she was enchanted with their life and did truly adore Delia, despite the horrors she had created. There was nothing much else for June; her school life was mundane, she had no real other friends, her mother was an oblivious drunk. I think things would have ended sadly for her, stuck in the clutches of this evil manipulative woman operating under the guise of a loving best friend.

Whew! Hammering this out at half one in the morning. (Why am I such an addict? I should be heading to sleep now!) It took me a while to understand this book; at first glance the ending seems poorly executed and pointless, but thanks to online discussions and a bit of re-reading I was able to suss out what this book is really about. This was an enjoyable read for sure; not a great book, and the ambiguity/plot holes were annoying, but overall a nice entertaining YA thriller.

Related posts:

(Stuff that helped me understand the book's ending)

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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