2017 Reviews · contemporary fiction · crime · fiction · psychological · suspense · thriller

Book Review: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Title: Good Me Bad Megood me bad me small

Author:  Ali Land

Published: August 28th 2017

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 400

Genres: Fiction, Crime, Psychological, Suspense, Thriller

RRP: $19.99

Rating: 4.5

Good Me Bad Me is dark, compelling, voice-driven psychological suspense by debut author Ali Land.

How far does the apple really fall from the tree? 

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school. 

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all. 

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

My review:

Debut novelist Ali’s Land’s extensive background in child and adolescent mental health care has given her solid footing to craft her first novel, Good Me Bad Me. An opportune first time novel, Good Me Bad Me explores the dark and contentious world of a 15 year old girl, who is the offspring of a serial murderess. The resulting story is unsettling, ingenious and entirely absorbing.

Fifteen year old Annie has endured years of abuse and manipulation at the hands of her tormentor, her despicable mother. Annie’s mother has recruited Annie to play a role in her terrible crimes. We learn how Annie’s mother abused and murdered young children in her ‘playground’, a hidden area of their house. Annie decides the only way to put at stop to these atrocious crimes is to report her mother to the police. As Annie is the only witness to her mother’s crimes, she must be put on the stand and testify against her in court. To protect Annie, authorities decide to place her in a foster home and give her a new identity, ‘Milly’. But Milly’s new foster family are dysfunctional themselves, lacking the support and care this troubled teenager needs. While Milly contends with a new family, a jealous sister and an awful round of bullying at her new school, dark thoughts begin to enter her mind. The question looms as to whether the psychological damage this young girl has endured for years, can be repaired, or will the urge to commit the sins of her mother take hold?

Just when I thought the psychological thriller genre couldn’t come up with anything entirely new, debut novelist Ali Land puts a new spin on a style of book I couldn’t get enough of. Good Me Bad Me takes on a subject that is belligerent and morally complex. Putting the spotlight on the child of a serial killer and a female serial killer is quite a bold move for a new writer. But Land takes this problematic subject matter in her stride and the result is an unputdownable narrative. This assured novel is perhaps born from the many years of experience and knowledge gleaned from Land’s time working as a mental health nurse with children and adolescents. This firsthand experience speaks volumes for the compelling narrative.

Land’s style of narration is interesting. The book is narrated by Annie/Milly. As a result, we as the reader get an in-depth insight into the human psyche of an incredibly damaged young individual. The narration tends to flow steadily, thoughts, both good and bad pop in and out of this teenager’s brain. It is emotional, terribly sad, hard going in places and sparse in some aspects. By selecting this method of narration to express the events of the story, it is a compelling choice that seems to work in well with the overall tone of the book itself.

Land tackles the main character of Annie/Milly with both resonance and self belief in her key protagonist. I can appreciate how hard it would have been to get inside the head of such a troubled young girl but Land’s characterisation should be commended for its authenticity. Land has portrayed Milly in such a way that it is hard not to feel deep sympathy towards this young girl.  I know I felt like Milly deserved a second chance at life and fresh start. I desperately wanted for her to break away from the chip she seemed to have on her shoulder that she was as worthless and as bad as her mother, with no future ahead of her expect darkness.

Land also tackles the characterisation of the members of Milly’s foster family with a strong hand. Mike, the patriarch of the foster family and the one who pressed to take Milly under his wing, was a figure that frustrated my immensely. I really didn’t like the way in which he abused his figure as Milly’s therapist and foster carer for his own selfish needs. But using Milly as the subject of a potential book he planned to write, I could have slapped him for not offering Milly the care and support she needed at the crucial time. The whole foster care environment Milly was placed in brought in some serious feelings for me. I actually believe this environment was detrimental to Milly’s mental health and ongoing care, she should never have been placed with such a dysfunctional family unit! I lead me to question who authorised this placement and was there such a lack of potential foster carers available to Milly that she had no choice but to stay with this awful family! Phoebe, the daughter was utterly despicable, a child completely indulged, who was never going to offer Milly a welcoming environment. While the mother of the house, Saskia, was clearly damaged and should never have been placed in charge of the care of a troubled teenager. The warning bells were huge in this novel, often leading me to question if the events in the novel could have been turned in a completely different direction, by the selection of a different foster family for our lead.

It is interesting to note that Land seems to steer clear of the most fascinating aspect of the story and the reason which initially hooked me into this novel. The female serial killer of nine children and Annie’s mother. Land chooses not to delve into the story of this character in-depth, rather, she is described in a distant and dreamy sense by Annie’s recollections. She features briefly in the court episodes of the novel but Land chooses to focus on her daughter’s story instead.

Not only does Land tackle a very controversial subject matter, she also delves into other quite difficult territory. Through the character of Annie/Millie, Land examines the blame offspring of dangerous criminals face and the self-fulfilling prophecy. She opens up a conversation on self harm, bullying, cyber based bullying, teen drinking and rape. All these issues are emotionally fraught ones that deserve our attention, as well as introspection.

Good Me Bad Me closed off in a way that surprised me in a way, a couple of twists were thrown in to this disturbingly intense novel that continued to provoke me to read page after page. The most overwhelming aspect which I believe Land deserves praise for is the way she went into this novel relentlessly, occupying the mind of such a troubled young soul. Good Me Bad Me is a thought-provoking thriller that expertly encapsulates the trauma of an adolescent who has seen and done things, no child should have to do, ever.

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land was published on August 28th 2017 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Good Me Bad Me, Ali Land, visit here.

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