The award-winning author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post makes her adult debut with this highly imaginative and original horror-comedy centered around a cursed New England boarding school for girls—a wickedly whimsical celebration of the art of storytelling, sapphic love, and the rebellious female spirit.
Read Reina and Katya's thoughts below.
Katya says: With its premise, one might expect Plain Bad Heroines to be a straightforward gothic tale—and there are more than enough thrills and chills to go around. But if anything, it is a horror-comedy with one unmissable part: a shrewd, sarcastic narrator who speaks confidentially yet irreverently about the things she (and I presume she is a she!) witnesses.
As a horror novel, Plain Bad Heroines doesn’t shy away from complicated, messy characters and relationships, queer or otherwise. However, it is a book in which sapphic desire is portrayed as something integral to the self, even if the world fears it—and for that, I appreciate it.
Reina says: Told using two alternating storylines, Emily M. Danforth's sophomore novel feels like a go on a very long, queer-centric, horror roller coaster ride. Its ambitious premise necessarily requires the reader's patience, so before you strap yourself in, you'd better be certain you can commit to sticking it out until the end!
The horror elements really shine in Libby and Alex's chapters of the book. The Brookhants estate is a hotbed for sinister forces, someone somewhere is descending into madness at any given moment, and as the plot tightens like a noose, everyone on the estate seems suspect. And everywhere one turns, pesky yellow jacket wasps buzz about like bright harbingers of doom.
Katya says: At over 640 pages, Plain Bad Heroines is a hefty read, and takes many twists and turns into unexpected themes, dipping into Hollywood intrigues, the good and the bad of the horror genre, and ethical dilemmas about privacy. In unraveling the mystery of Brookhants, it even raises the erasure of women from their own narratives, as well as the entitlement of men across generations.
All of these themes, of course, mean that the book is not an easy one to devour, nor its characters easy to pin down—and the end of the novel, particularly the story of Harper, Merritt, and Audrey, comes as a surprise… and feels like another mystery left unsolved.
Reina says: Plain Bad Heroines isn’t simply a past storyline and a present storyline intertwined. It’s actually layer upon layer of stories: it's a book about three young women making a movie about a book written about girls at a boarding school who die after reading a cursed book. It's a lot to keep track of, structurally, and this is where many of the book's weaknesses lie.
Ultimately, I feel like the book would have been better served if the modern-day storyline had a more concrete direction, or if it had been solely about the happenings at Brookhants, which was already juicy material on its own.
Katya says: Plain Bad Heroines is a gripping read that had me turning page after page long after the sun had gone down. And while it isn’t perfect, it is the perfect companion for the spooky season, and for any other time you’d like a little queer horror, with wit and bite, in your life.
Reina says: Despite all that, as a horror story centered fully on queer characters and relationships, there is no question that Plain Bad Heroines is an important addition to bookshelves and libraries this year. […] With 500-plus pages full of Danforth’s tortuous prose, slowly-unfolding plot points, and genuine shivers-up-your-spine scares, Plain Bad Heroines has more than enough twists, drops, and turns up its sleeve to keep you up for many, many nights.