The Lives of Desperate Girls

One small, northern community. Two girls gone — one missing, the other dead. A riveting coming-of-age debut young adult novel for fans of We Were Liars and All the Bright Places.

     Sixteen-year-old Helen Commanda is found dead just outside Thunder Creek, Ontario. Her murder goes unremarked, except for the fact that it may shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is beautiful, rich and white. Helen is plain, and from the reservation. They had nothing in common except that they were teenage girls from an unforgiving small town. Only Chloe’s best friend Jenny Parker knows exactly how unforgiving, but she’s keeping some dangerous secrets of her own. 

     Jenny begins looking for answers about Helen’s life and death, trying to understand larger questions about her town and her best friend. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I’m going to tell you right away you will either love or hate this book.

 MacKenzie Common hits many of the taboo subjects that need to be talked about in depth until they stop being so prevalent yet ignored in modern society. Sexist attitudes, racist beliefs, bullying and rape all make it into this book but the attitudes towards the difference between rape and consensual sex misses the mark. I admit to being a bit sensitive towards this latter part since I just finished watching the Netflix series based on 13 Reasons Why.

 I did like getting an introduction to Canada’s First Nation’s people since I had no previous knowledge of them and appreciated the careful research the author put in to showcasing their treatment accurately. I have to admit I also found it fascinating because all I’ve ever heard is positive things about the Canadian culture to the point that their graciousness towards others is often the butt of jokes. Naively it never occurred to me they too would be dealing with racist attitudes towards a whole culture of people.

 Unfortunately though your emotions don’t really get a chance to dig in and become affected at the right pace because the writing doesn’t hit the tension levels expected in a mystery. Often the important parts got buried in sentence structure, details and phrases that weren’t needed so your attention drifts. Jenny, a main character, needs an attitude adjustment and was hard to care about. The sappy, completely unrealistic romance between Jenny and Tom didn’t help either.

 I still haven’t decided whether I liked or hated this book. There was the skeleton for something amazing, a great story that needs to be told, a beautiful setting, a rich history, an awesome country but it disappeared among the negatives.

 Common also needs a different main character or at least to write her better because I kept hoping Jenny would end up murdered just to get rid of her; Jenny sabotaged this story.

 Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House Canada for allowing me to review this book.

 *synopsis and pic from

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