Good Me Bad Me is Ali Land’s first novel as part of Penguin’s imprint Michael Joseph. As a former Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse, she has written a novel that immerses us in the psyche of a young girl and her relationship to her now absent and murderous mother.
This book was a hard read. It reminded me of Gone Girl in a way, mostly in the effect it had on me. Gone Girl’s characters annoyed me and I found it difficult to finish, I only did because it was so gripping. This one, equally gripping, didn’t annoy me but, as a parent and having small children, I found it difficult. In the one hand, there was all that happened to those children, in the other, the harsh reality in which Annie, the main character, finds herself. This said, it’s a testament to the talent of this writer, who manages to both grab you and make you uncomfortable at the same time.
Annie is fifteen and has made the biggest decision of her life. After witnessing her mother’s abuse and murder of small children and being a victim herself, she reports her to the police. She is then placed with a foster family whose father figure is a psychologist. Mike will help her with her feelings and issues and prepare her to deal with the trial in which she will have to testify. The family, which could have been idyllic, soon shows its cracks. Saskia, Mike’s wife, is mostly absent, drug dependent and otherwise unable to relate to their daughter. Phoebe is not oblivious to it either. She resents her mother and her anger shows in the form of the bullying of others, including Annie. With Milly as her new name, Annie’s hopes of a new life are dampened by Phoebe’s hate and her own mother’s voice, still very present in her mind, as well as her own fears of becoming like her.
This psychological thriller doesn’t fail to grab your attention. I read it quite avidly and finished it in under a week. This might seem like a long time for some elite level bookworms out there, but considering I have my own reading as well as university reading and two small children, a week seems like a short enough time and is a proof of how much I enjoyed the story.
The action is described strictly in first person, through Annie/Milly’s point of view. What is happening to her as well as in front of her is subjected to her own frame of mind and we have front seats to her reactions and her interpretations. There is, of course, a number of twists in the story and hints are dropped throughout the text to lead you there.
Land seems to use Phoebe as a mirror for Milly. Her cruelty increases as the story continues and Milly realises they are the same. While she fears to be like her mother, she recognises the familiar, cruel urges in Phoebe, urges she has seen before in her mother and fears in herself.
The author is also very clever in making Milly the recipient of certain teachings from her mother, of reading people, more particularly. Through her eyes, we are able to see more into Mike, Saskia and Phoebe than would be readily available with a normal character, therefore avoiding some of the limitations of first person point of view.
And of course, Milly’s fear of becoming her mother is constantly present, like an aura or even another character. Sometimes it takes shape in the form of a serpent representing her mother. It is also interesting that Land doesn’t go into detail in what Milly’s mother did or didn’t do. Her modus operandi remains vague, although you get a good enough idea of it to make you want to lock your children in and never let them talk to another human being.
In Good Me, Bad Me you are constantly on edge. There is a sense of foreboding that can’t be shaken, no light at the end of this tunnel. I suppose it would have been a true twist if there was a happy ending here, although it would have been slightly disappointing. Still, I can’t feel completely satisfied with the way the story ends. It’s not completely expected, but it’s not totally unexpected either. It does lack closure, for me, which is why I don’t feel at peace, but maybe that’s on purpose, since I don’t think there would ever be any such thing as peace for a girl like Milly.
Good Me, Bad me is building up to be one of the big successes of 2017 and with good reason. The tension is palpable, both in the story and in your hands as you hold the pages open for the third hour, because you won’t be able to put it down. Engaging characters build a great story in this novel. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, you’ll love this one.
Good Me, Bad Me will is currently available!