The Perfectionists // The Good Girls // by Sara Shepard

//published 2014//

This was my first foray into Shepard’s writing, and also my first experience with this sort of evil YA girls that seems to be a theme nowadays.  But sometimes it’s fun to read something on the edges of where you’re comfortable, and that’s where The Perfectionists was for me.  Even a quarter of a way into the book I wasn’t completely sure that it was for me, despite the immediate action and intensity.  But the further I went, the more hooked I was, and by the end of The Perfectionists I was racing through the pages – and leaped into The Good Girls as soon as I could!

The first book starts with a murder, and the entire premise of the book is centered around the question of whether or not this group of girls killed their classmate, Nolan.  There were five main characters in this book:  Mackenzie, Ava, Caitlin, Julie, and Parker.  It seemed like it should have been confusing, but it really wasn’t, especially since the story was told in third person (past tense! Yay!), which I think always helps – nothing is more confusing than multiple first-person perspectives that all sound the same.  The third-person narrative means that we get to hear the girls’ thoughts and worries, and also get glimpses of other action taking place elsewhere.

The girls manage to be different without being too cliche.  They all attend a “rich kids” school in a Seattle suburb, so at some level are struggling with stereotypical first-world problems, like whether or not Mackenzie is going to get into Julliard and if Caitlin is going to land a soccer scholarship.  But as I got to know the girls better, they had other, deeper problems that were more relatable to not-rich people – one of the girls is struggling with the recent death of a close family member, another is unsure if her long-time boyfriend is still the right person for her, while one has a home life she is desperate to keep hidden from all of her classmates.  Slowly, motives and issues are revealed, and I genuinely had no idea whether or not the girls – or one of them – had killed Nolan.  I had my own personal idea that was proven wrong (and so was idea #2).  The twists never felt contrived, and the information was revealed at a nearly perfect pace.

The ending of The Perfectionists was such a cliffhanger that I honestly knocked it a bit on the rating because of it.  If The Good Girls hadn’t already been published and sitting on my shelf, I would have been pretty genuinely enraged.  Like many duologies, these aren’t two separate stories – they’re two volumes of one story, and I think that publishers need to make that more clear.  For instance, while the cover of The Good Girls says that it’s the sequel to The Perfectionists, I honestly don’t think it would even make sense if you hadn’t read the first book first.

However, I didn’t have to worry about any of that, because I had The Good Girls already checked out the library, thanks to my obsessive insistence on reading all series in order, and I was SO glad!  The Perfectionists ended with another murder, so just when I thought the girls were in the clear, they’re back on the hook for possibly both murders.  These books were kind of interesting because at no point do we get to see how the official investigation is going, or learn any of the clues being discovered and analyzed by the police.  The story focuses entirely on the girls, and I wasn’t completely sure that I could trust any of them!

When I initially read and rated The Perfectionists I only gave it 3.5 stars, partially because of the cliffhanger ending, and also partially because literally every male character in the book was a total jerk – like EVERY SINGLE ONE.  However, several of those characters were redeemed in the second book/had their actual actions and motivations revealed so it turns out they weren’t all jerks, and that was nice.  I was honestly a bit annoyed when I got to the end of The Perfectionists – like are there no decent males left in the world?!  But Shepard did a really good job bringing some of those stories back around to make sense of those secondary characters’ actions, and that helped a lot.

//published 2015//

The Good Girls was incredibly satisfying.  I couldn’t believe how well Shepard brought everything together, and I really, really appreciated the way that she wrapped up a lot of the storylines.  Not everyone got a neat and tidy ending, but they did at least get endings, which is what I want from my fiction.

Usually I don’t really care if I know spoilery kinds of things about books, but in this case I accidentally read a spoiler (my fault, it was clearly marked… I just thought it was going to be a spoiler for another part of the story…) that was for THE big twist in this story.  And while at some level it allowed my mind to be blown while reading the way Shepard was setting everything up, part of me is really sad that I couldn’t enjoy the shock at its full value.  So my advice is – don’t read the spoilers on this one.  For real.

Overall, 4/5 for this pair of books.  There were a few things that kept it from being a full 5* read – the biggest one was a teacher having sexual relationships with students.  And while it wasn’t presented as a positive thing at all, it was kind of presented as just “one of those things” that happen/no actual adults seemed to take it seriously.  I felt like if I was reading this as a young adult and was in a situation like this or knew someone who was, the way it was handled in this book would make me think that it was pointless to bother going to someone in authority about it, because at best nothing would happen and at worst I would be made fun of and not believed.  It felt like that could have been handled better, and it’s kind of a serious topic.

And I realize that this is a personal and nit-picky thing, but a big part of this book is that the girls watched And Then There Were None for their film class, and like that’s a huge part of this book’s plot, and yet Agatha Christie wasn’t mentioned a single time!  I realize they watched the movie and didn’t read the book, but it still felt like Christie should have at least have gotten a nod for creating that incredibly crafty plot, which, in a lot of ways, Shephard built on.

Still, I definitely recommend these books.  I first saw them reviewed over on Heart Full of Books (The Perfectionists and The Good Girls), and their biggest complaint was a similarity between the characters in these books and characters in Shepard’s other book, Pretty Little Liars.  I’ve never read PLL, so I didn’t have that issue, but it was a theme I saw echoed in some of the Goodreads reviews of these books as well.  So maybe these won’t be as good if you’ve read some of Shepard’s other books, but if you haven’t – these are definitely worth the read.