Perry and Baby Girl are best friends but they don’t seem like it at first glance. Their friendship thrives on competition and digs at one another. Their bond is deep but also fragile, and they flirt with danger at every chance. Spending their time stealing cars and going for joyrides, the girls work hard to appear hardened to the outside world. They’re so focused on appearing tough that they don’t realize that real danger is very near: Jamey, a boy they’ve both secretly been talking to on the internet, has been watching them closely. And although he says he’s a high school student in a nearby town, the truth is that he’s anything but.
Lindsay Hunter’s novel about teen girls and the tenuous bonds of friendship is outstanding, haunting, and absolutely noteworthy. The novel’s real value lies in its surprising depth: there is a ton for readers to unpack here, and each scene and character is full of surprises and nuances. Each interaction between the characters is dense, full of moments to parse for meaning. This is not an easy read, but it is a riveting one.
Told in alternating perspectives between five main characters, Hunter does an admirable job of developing each character and allowing them to have fully developed personalities. There’s Baby Girl and Perry, but Hunter also spends time developing Perry’s mother Myrna and stepfather Jim, both battling their own demons. Then there’s Jamey, who escapes being a one-note villain through Hunter’s deft skill. None of these characters are all bad, but none of them are exactly good, either.
Because Hunter is so adept at creating characters that feel real, she also plays with readers’ sympathies. It’s hard to completely hate Jamey once we know what his home life is, and it’s hard to think of Myrna as completely despicable when we see how hard she’s trying to tackle her alcoholism. Hunter is also playing with the concept of human ugliness, and that is on full display here.
The novel’s violent, shocking ending feels unsettling but oddly inevitable. This is a meaty novel that will make for good discussion, if a book club were brave enough to tackle it. Raw and unflinching. Excellent. Lindsay Hunter is an author to watch.
Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2014. Library copy.