The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn't so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?
I've been meaning to review this book since I read it back in February but I had so many thoughts that I just didn't know where to begin. So I shelved it and promised I'd come back to it. Three months later, here we are (honestly, what is even the point of me blogging. I am just the worst 🙃). With the release of the sequel, Good Girl, Bad Blood, I figured now seemed like the perfect time to revisit what was probably my favourite YA book of the past year. If you've somehow managed to avoid A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, hopefully this review will tell you all you need to know (spoiler-free, of course!) and encourage you to pick it up.
What's it about?
A Good Girl's Guide to Murder is a teen crime thriller that follows 17-year-old Pippa (Pip) Fitz-Amobi as she investigates a local murder that took place in her hometown five years ago. Everyone in Little Kilton has heard of the Andie Bell murder and they all know that her college boyfriend Sal Singh was the killer. But Pip isn't quite so sure. There are just too many loose threads and not enough evidence. The more she researches the case for her final-year project, the more she's convinced that Sal wasn't guilty after all. But if Sal didn't do it, who did?
I have a confession to make. I'm not a big fan of YA crime. I guess I just find it too predictable. They're cliched, they rehash the same narrative with the same archetypal characters. And don't get me started on the cheesy romances. Thanks, but I'll pass.
Needless to say, A Good Girl's Guide to Murder wasn't a book I was desperate to read. In fact, the only reason I picked it up at all is because it had made the longlist for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2020, which I had signed up to read as a bookseller. (You can find the shortlist for the prize here btw. It's decided solely by booksellers like yours truly so you know you can trust that the books have been chosen on merit and not silly commercial decisions). Alas, I reluctantly picked it up and resigned myself to yet another cookie-cutter teen crime novel.
READER, I WAS WRONG.
Holy cow. Holly Jackson is a genius. A Good Girl's Guide to Murder is like an addictive Netflix documentary binge but in book form. The last book I devoured this quickly was Heartstream by Tom Pollock - another teen thriller that had me totally obsessed and that you definitely need to read. I guess it just goes to show that sometimes the best books are the ones you would never have picked up on your own! There are so many things that I loved about this book and I could easily write a whole essay about it, but I'll keep things brief.
First up - the characters. Pip is a brilliant protagonist. At 17, she's slightly older than most YA main characters, but her maturity is kind of needed here because this is a mature book (more on that later). I love that Holly Jackson has taken the formula of an adult detective crime novel and applied it to a teen character because it just makes the stakes feel so much higher. Pip is not a detective. She does not have forensics or the law on her side. She's working this case on her own from her laptop in her bedroom and it feels real. We've all been there: following that digital paper trail of Facebook profiles, deep-diving into someone's timeline to find posts from years ago, using that creepy reverse look-up feature on Google Images (or maybe that's just me and I should shut up because this is not A Good Look... 👀) People often use the word "millennial" in a negative way, but A Good Girl's Guide to Murder is millennial in the best possible sense. It adds a whole new dimension to the whodunnit genre and it's something that we as YA readers can really engage with.
Speaking of Pip, can we just talk about what an awesome MC she is. Pip isn't that preppy popular college girl that you so often find in YA. She's distinctly British and it shows in her awkward, geeky humour (I'm curious as to how this will translate in the US edition 😂). Honestly, Pip is hilarious. She's also a perfectionist and once she has something in her sights, she won't stop until she gets it. I definitely relate to Pip as a protagonist and I think this is one of the reasons why I found the book so engaging. Don't get me wrong, there were times when I wanted to scream at Pip for making stupid, risky decisions, but she made them because she was pursuing the truth no matter the cost. And honestly, I think I'd have done the same in her shoes.
Then there's Ravi - the younger brother of Sal (our supposed killer). Since Andie's murder, Ravi and his family have been ostracised by the whole community. It's awful to see the way he's treated - even when it comes to something as trivial as popping to the shop for groceries. It's clear that Ravi has had to build up this wall around him in order to survive and one of the things I love most about his character is seeing him learn to lower his guard when he meets Pip. Nobody has ever considered that Sal might be innocent and you see how much it means to Ravi to finally have someone fighting his corner.
Of course, there are a whole host of other characters who each offer something new to the narrative. Whether it's a casual conversation between friends or a recorded interview with a witness, each interaction offers a different insight into the night of the murder and it's so easy to get lost in the story trying to piece together various snippets of information. There are some really shady characters who do some pretty terrible things so if you're a sensitive reader this probably isn't the book for you. And as a children's bookseller, I'd be remiss not to point out that this is definitely a book for older teens - not kids who are transitioning from Middle Grade or looking for something a bit longer. Aside from the swearing and violence you'd typically expect from YA, there are references to drugs, date-rape, revenge porn and some rather questionable relationships. When you string all that together, it sounds pretty intense (and don't get me wrong there are some scenes that are pretty hard to swallow) but honestly, it's probably no worse than some of the stuff you've seen on Netflix, and Holly Jackson handles the subjects sensitively and with tact. At no point does it feel like these scenes have been included simply for shock value. Having said that, I think it's always worth knowing what you're letting yourself in for and I really think Electric Monkey / Egmont should have included a content warning on the book jacket or at the very least a notice saying "For Older Readers".
I think perhaps my favourite thing about this book is the way it is written. This isn't your typical crime novel. It's an investigative scrapbook. Interspersed between chapters, you'll find transcripts of recorded interviews, social media screenshots, annotated maps, production log entries and diary scans. The result is that this doesn't read like fiction: it feels real. Because you have access to all this stuff, you find yourself trying to solve the case at the same time as Pip. More than once I found myself flicking back to text messages and transcripts to check whether a statement from another character could be corroborated. It makes for truly immersive reading and adds a level of interactivity I've never experienced in a book before.
There's really only one way of measuring the success of a crime novel and that is: did you guess the killer? I'm keeping this review spoiler-free so the only thing I will say on the matter is, no. I did not guess the killer AT ALL. This book is full of twists and turns and honestly, I couldn't predict any of it. I can only hope that Good Girl, Bad Blood is equally as obscure!
I went into this book expecting to hate it because YA crime just isn't for me. But hey, maybe I'm wrong because A Good Girl's Guide to Murder is easily one of the best YA titles I've ever read. Aside from the brilliant writing and top-notch characterisation, it's so intricately plotted that you can't help but become obsessed with the case. While the book unquestionably draws inspiration from the Hae Min Lee / Adnan Syed case from the Serial podcast, Holly Jackson's debut is compelling and original, breathing a breath of fresh air into a rather stagnant genre. I can't recommend this book enough and I can't wait to get stuck into Good Girl, Bad Blood.
Have you read A Good Girl's Guide to Murder?
Do you know any other great teen crime novels for a converted fan like myself?
Let me know in the comments! 😁