Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager (2017)

July 10th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Enjoy with a slice of red velvet cake.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and suicide.)

While there were other multiple homicides during those years, none quite got the nation’s attention like ours. We were, for whatever reason, the lucky ones who survived when no one else had. Pretty girls covered in blood. As such, we were each in turn treated like something rare and exotic. A beautiful bird that spreads its bright wings only once a decade. Or that flower that stinks like rotting meat whenever it decides to bloom.

I understand that urge for more information, that longing for details. But in this case, I’m fine without them. I know what happened at Pine Cottage. I don’t need to remember exactly how it happened.

Quincy Carpenter: marketing grunt, food blog maven, massacre survivor.

Quincy was just a sophomore in college when it happened. She and her five best friends – boyfriend Craig, BFF Janelle, and friends Betz, Amy, and Rodney; collectively known as the East Hall Crew – were renting a cabin in the Poconos, celebrating Janelle’s birthday, when Joe Hannen stumbled into their lives. Janelle, being the wild and carefree member of the group, invited him to stay for dinner. Since she was the birthday girl, she got to call the shots.

You kind of wonder whether things would have went down differently had they known that Joe wasn’t a stranded motorist, but rather a recent escapee from the nearby Blackthorn Psychiatric asylum. (This sounds hella ableist, and there’s certainly that potential; but the many plot twists don’t necessarily play into the stereotype that mentally ill people are inherently violent, and vice versa.)

By the end of the night, everyone would be dead, save for Quincy. Almost before the blood could dry, the media nicknamed Quincy the Final Girl – one of three, at least in recent memory. Though Quincy had no desire to be defined by tragedy, she would forever be lumped in with fellow survivors: the reclusive Samantha Boyd (Nightlight Inn), and do-gooder Lisa Milner before her (a sorority house in Indiana).

Nearly ten years later, Quincy is living a life of forced normalcy. Adopting her repressed WASP mother’s strategy of “fake it till you make it,” Quincy spends most of her days baking and photographing goodies for her food blog, Quincy’s Sweets. She’s in a long-term relationship with a public defender named Jeff (an odd pairing, to be sure) and has a swanky apartment on the Upper West Side, thanks to her Pine Cottage settlement money. Things are okay-ish; that is, if you overlook the Xanax and social misanthropy.

And then Lisa turns up dead of an apparent suicide, thrusting Quincy and Sam together – and into the spotlight – once more. Why would someone who’s been to hell and back kill herself, after all these years? What’s with the cryptic email Lisa sent Quincy right before she died? Why’s her closet safe stuffed with files on the Final Girls? Is someone hunting them, trying to finish the what their tormentors, all long since dead, started? And just when are Quincy and her savior cop Coop going to knock boots, anyway?

Final Girls is a compelling and suspenseful read, though it falls into the same trap as many books belonging to this genre: the many outlandish plot twists threaten to snap your credibility after a while. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are several gotcha! moments, and with the last one I came perilously close to an exaggerated eye roll. Thankfully this is offset by the sheer entertainment value: the writing is skillful, the characters command your attention, and the mysteries will have you white-knuckling your Kindle until the very end.

Quincy and Sam are both engaging protagonists, even if they didn’t always push the story in the direction I expected or hoped. (Those scenes in Central Park? I was mouthing a silent prayer that Final Girls was about to morph into an adult version of Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species. If this is you, don’t despair! The ending gets you there, kinda sorta, in a roundabout way.)

Though we’re witness to several work-related arguments between Quincy and Jeff, I wish the narrative had explored this conflict between them – she, a survivor of a violent assault; he, the defender of the accused – in greater depth.

Overall, Final Girls is a solid addition to the genre – if not the genre-busting book I was craving (think: The Cabin in the Woods).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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