Book Review: Last Girls by Demetra Brodsky (2020)

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

“Our end will bring our beginning to light.”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for child abuse.)

When I reminisce about the pieces of art I’ve left behind over the years, I get pensive. I could have taken them, but I chose to leave them behind, in places we lived, in art rooms at different schools. Never signed, but as an artistic Honey Was Here trail.

If we were living in a different time, she’d be the first of us weirds to be tried as a witch. Birdie would be next, for failure to cooperate with the magistrates. And then me, because with my sisters persecuted I would straight up lose my mind.

Sixteen-year-old Honey Juniper and her two younger sisters – Birdie and Blue, collectively known at Elkwood High as “the weird sisters” – are preppers. Along with a handful of other families, they live on a secret compound in the backwoods of Washington State. Dieter Ackerman’s acolytes hide in plain sight: bartering and selling homemade goods in the small town of Elkwood, attending nearby Elkwood High School, pretending to live in the mobile home park they use for extra storage.

Though the Juniper sisters have moved five times in ten years, it’s starting to look like the Nest might be their final home…at least, until Dieter’s increasingly risky and erratic behavior, coupled with Alice Juniper’s social climbing, proves to be their undoing.

I expected to enjoy Last Girls so much more than I did. I mean, doomsday preppers! Badass sisters with pouty lips and wild hairdos! Forbidden love/lust! Sick presidential burns! Cultish stuff galore! A freaking peregrine falcon! Alas, it was not meant to be.

I think my main gripe is that there’s just too much going on here. A story about three sisters caught in a doomed doomsday prepper group (lol, see what I did there?) is interesting enough on its own. The culture of paranoia would make for a rather gripping psychological thriller; throw in some teenage hormones a la Remy and Honey, and you’ve got yourself one rousing tale. But on top of a prepper cult engaged in some sketchy terrorist activities and maybe under investigation by the authorities, we also have a triple kidnapping and some random psychic shit thrown in to make things extra weird, I guess.

To be fair, Blue’s prophecies are obvious throwbacks to Shakespeare’s witches – as are the sisters, collectively – as well as Cassandra of Greek mythology. Even so, it’s all just too much.

I also felt like many of the characters, including Honey and her sisters, could have been fleshed out more. The Juniper sisters feel more like a collection of quirks and eccentricities than honest-to-goodness people. And the secondary characters? Ugh. Caricatures, mostly: Magda is the jealous scorned wife; Annalise, the power-hungry second child; Dieter, the erratic messiah. Even Alice Juniper is elusive at best, and it’s her actions that set this whole story in motion.

There’s an exhilarating seed of a story here that sadly never fully blooms. I’m sure Blue would have something especially prescient to say here.

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