A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (SPOILER FREE book review)
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
GENRE: YA Mystery LENGTH: 433 pages
Pip decides to do a school project investigating a death in her small town. It is believed that popular girl Andie Bell was killed by her boyfriend Sal, but Pip is out to prove his innocence.
There are too many characters to possibly discuss them all individually, so I'm going to touch briefly on the four most prevalent and then discuss things in a broader sense.
Pip is a character who has good intentions but makes questionable decisions when pursuing the case. Her motivations made sense though she was far from impartial. Ravi is the brother of Sal and he becomes Pip's partner in solving the crime. They had good chemistry, a jovial dynamic together and both were a little awkward.
While Andie and Sal are both deceased prior to the start of the novel we get to know them through the eyes of those who knew them. Sal was known to be kind and intelligent but his reputation was irreparably tarnished. Andie was the golden, popular girl but as the story progresses we come to understand more about her and the many secrets she kept.
So many characters are woven into the mystery surrounding Andie's disappearance and I think Jackson did a good job of keeping the reader guessing at who was guilty. Plenty of people had motives and means and Jackson scattered in some red herrings along the way. The answers were never obvious but in the end they made sense.
NARRATIVE STYLE/PACING The novel is told from the third person perspective of Pip along with project logs from her first person perspective. These logs document her progress. They also include interviews with people related to the case, maps she's drawn, texts, and other clues she collects. I love mixed media in books because it adds an extra level of engagement for the reader and I think it especially works well with mysteries like this one. I assume that Jackson chose to use both third and first person in order to further distinguish between Pip's project logs and the rest of the story. Though I don't think this was strictly necessary I didn't find it distracting, either.
While I liked the idea of having Pip doing a school project about the case I found there to be a flaw in the execution. Pip was brutally honest in her logs and included some of her more...illegal and morally questionable acts in order to solve the case within her logs. It didn't make sense to me that she would include that in something her teachers were going to read. Ultimately, this concept started off strong but went a little off the rails.
While this novel has a recently released companion/sequel it can be read as a self-contained story. The mystery is solved by the end of the novel. Jackson did a good job of parceling out information to the reader to keep them invested.
The novel takes place in a small town called Fairview. The novel portrays the lasting impact the case has had on the town. Even though Sal was never tried (due to his suicide) most of the town treats his family like pariahs. The novel addresses racism (the Singh family is Indian) and touches on how it may have made it easier for some to place the blame on Sal.
If you're looking for a really unsettling atmosphere in your mystery then I don't know how satisfied you'll be with this novel. There were definitely heart pounding moments when danger felt imminent and Pip dealt with threatening notes. However, it never truly veered into being outright creepy. I'd say it's geared more towards those who like mysteries but are easily unnerved and looking for something that won't induce nightmares.
My best friend recommended me this book based on how much I love Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson which is another YA mystery. They definitely have similarities (the main one being they both follow female protagonists solving a case of a disappearance) and appeal to the same general audience. I agree with her that if you're a fan of the Truly Devious books looking for something new to read then you would likely enjoy this one. It's a solid novel and while I took issue with some messy execution I still gave it a high rating because the narrative style was creative and fun. Trigger warnings (which I don't consider spoilers) for: rape, murder, suicide, drug use (non-consensual), and pedophilia.
FINAL RATING: 4 ⭐️