McAulay, Alex. Bad Girls. MTV Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0743497336. 320 pp. $13.00
Anna is a good girl gone bad, and when her father, author of a popular Christian series, has had enough of her shenanigans (sneaking out, talking back, and oh yeah, getting knocked up) he sends her away to Camp Archstone: a reform school for wayward girls on a remote island in the Bahamas. Apart from time spent with nature, the only “camp” of Archstone is its boot camp style. Run by ex-military, the girls are up at 0500, put on strict schedule heavy with exercise and reflecting on what brought them here. On day two, a hike through the jungle comes to an abrupt end when their chaperone is shot to death before their eyes. The girls scatter, left to fend for themselves. A few of the original group of unlucky thirteen band together, and the power struggles begin.
Although fairly strong on plot, the book is weak on character development, relying on cliched archetypes: the smart girl, the quiet girl, the mean girl, the lesbian. Requisite violence, sex, and language are so overabundant their impact is deadening, and rather than using the f-word for effect, as in M.T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2001), it seems kind of pointless in this title. If these are bad girls, it’s a given they use foul language–do we really need to hear it? The ending wraps up with a paragraph telling the reader that “Anna’s thoughts had grown clear”–it would have been nice to see this process, instead of being told. The third person limited point of view never allows us to get as deeply inside Anna’s head and makes the action read like a B-movie.
McAulay references William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies (Perigree, 1954) several times throughout the novel, and like films Mean Girls and Heathers, this novel demonstrates that girls are crueler to one another than boys, and faster to turn on you. The vivid writing, fast pace, neon cover and MTV endorsement will make this a popular choice.
Review by Beth Gallaway