Author: Abigail Haas
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Abigail Haas has written a thriller for the YA audience that manages to go beyond the usual drama associated with YA novels.
Dangerous Girls is creepy and seriously messes up with your mind. Of course, there is one big question that is still left unanswered and I wish Abigail hadn’t stopped writing one chapter too soon. The How remains unanswered, leaving us to grapple with the hows and ifs and how-could-it-bes?
Dangerous Girls starts with the transcript of a 911 distress call to Aruba Emergency Services, letting us know right at the beginning that something terrible has happened.
Eight teenagers, Melanie Chang, twins Max and Chelsea Day, AK (Akshay Kundra), Tate Dempsey, Elise Warren, Anna Chevalier and Lamar, are all students at the posh Hillcrest School, where Anna was an outsider until Elise befriended her and became her best friend at a very critical time in her life. It was a time when Anna’s mother was slowly dying of cancer, and had refused chemotherapy, choosing to die without medical aid.
Long after her mother’s death, Anna and the others are on their spring break to the beach of Aruba, to a home owned by AK’s father. It’s supposed to be a fun week – no parents, no rules.
Until one of them, Elise, is found brutally murdered in her room, stabbed multiple times.
All the others, except Tate and Anna who are in a relationship, were out surfing on the day of Elise’s death, and so Tate and Anna become the prime suspects, even though Anna reveals that Juan, a local vendor who Elise flirted with and then humiliated, had threatened revenge. And that Niklas, a rich playboy, was the last one to see Elise the previous night.
Tate and Anna are held separately, then Tate is released on a $5 million bail while Anna is led to remand as her father cannot post bail.
The prosecuting attorney, Klaus Dekker, is convinced that Anna knew about Tata’s affair with Elise, and that she killed Elise out of jealousy. He has no evidence, except what he can reconstruct through speculation and the collection of random information from her life. As Anna asks, Wouldn’t we all look guilty if someone searched hard enough? And yet it seems enough to put her away forever, unless she submits to a plea bargain after pleading guilty.
Egged on by a true crime reality show, which paints her in the worst colours, everyone begins to believe her guilty. It seems that it is only a matter of time before the court reaches a judgement of guilty.
Anna is the only one to maintain her innocence.
Will the court find her guilty or innocent? Anna’s future and life hang in the balance, and when the identity of the killer is ultimately revealed, it is someone you would never have guessed.
Anna finds herself alone, as one by one, all her friends seek to distance themselves from her, resorting to lies and even perjury under oath, in the case of Melanie. All of them teenagers though they are, show themselves capable of deceit and betrayal.
From Anna’s perspective, initially, it seems, that Elise is the commanding one, the girl who is the life of the party and enjoys being outrageous. But as she herself admits, they are both equally wild at heart, and their friendship evolves naturally. Both have a dangerous edge, but while Anna holds herself back, Elise lets go. Both of them Fall into friendship like its gravity.
The book takes us into the world of American high schools where being alone is a punishment and bullies and mean girls abound, scarring lives. It is in this context that Elise and Anna first meet, with Elise leaving her rich clique to befriend Anna.
The story is written mostly as the first person present tense account of Anna, with occasional transcripts of police interviews and of a true-crime reality show on TV breaking into her accounts. We also read newspaper articles, and a poem that Anna wrote in high school that exhibited violent tendencies.
Anna’s narrative takes us back and forward, to how she and Elise first met, the partying and the life at school, what happened on Halloween Night, as well as the custody, the hearing and the long trial that follows.
Since Anna’s is the only account we get to hear, we get totally sucked into her story, the ordeal she suffers in custody as she is held guilty of the murder of her best friend.
Anna is a very complex character. Her mother’s struggle with cancer plays a big role in her life, wrecking her emotions, making her value her relationships, making her afraid to lose them.
We feel sympathy for Anna. Our sympathy is heightened, when we realise that Dekker is gunning for her, is painting her as the classic sociopath.
This book messes up so seriously with our minds that at the end of it, we don’t know what hit us, and how we could have failed to arrive at the truth ourselves.
The beauty of this novel is that so much is left unsaid, implied, suggested, so that we don’t know whether it is our imagination or not. When Memory and imagination are only a knife edge apart, it’s hard for us to separate truth from belief, memory from imagination, particularly when they are intimately wound together.