I’m hoping it will not be the essay I proposed to Mrs Morgan. I’m hoping it will be the truth. What really happened to Andie Bell on the 20th April 2012? And – as my instincts tell me – if Salil ‘Sal’ Singh is not guilty, then who killed her?
How would a community react if one somewhat precocious teenager started nosing around in a closed but traumatic murder case that was a mere five years old? How would the victims feel? The family of the deceased? Or the family of the alleged murderer? How would the witnesses feel when interviewed again by a child?
How would the murderer who may have escaped detection for five years react?
These are the questions which are prompted in this novel when Pip takes the five year old disappearance and assumed murder of Andie Bell as the topic of her EPQ.
Of course, as a teacher, it is a bit of a stretch to imagine that a case that close to home would ever be accepted, but on the assumption that it is, what follows was a fantastic read! Alternating between third person narrative and then Pip’s first person Production Logs, we follow as Pip reaches out to Ravi Singh – Sal’s brother – and Andie Bell’s friends and family.
What had happened five years previously? Andie disappeared late one night and her boyfriend, Sal, would have been suspected had he not had the alibi of being with his friends. When that alibi fell through and it was suggested that Sal had the opportunity to murder or kidnap her, he too went missing before sending a text confessing to killing her and taking his own life. The press, the police and the community signed off on the murder-suicide narrative – and this is the entrenched narrative that Pip’s investigation is seeking to disrupt: entrenched and defensive and dismissive of her efforts, some of them willing to go to increasingly desperate measures to dissuade her from investigating.
The novel for me began a little clumsily – it is strange that having written a crime novel myself about a girl who goes missing, a lot of the opening chapters which recount the police procedures in the event of a missing person where almost verbatim some of the research that I found for myself! Once Jackson found Pip’s voice, however, the novel picks up as her own family and friendships are introduced – and new friendships and relationships grow – and are put under pressure by the investigation.
It feels strange too, reviewing this novel on the back of reviewing The Searcher by Tana French. Both novels are set in small closed communities which on the surface seem idyllic, although Jackson’s novel eschews the working class rural for the decidedly middle class suburbs; both novels reveal a convincingly plausible underside to those communities – although the actual resolution in A Good Girl felt a little melodramatic in comparison, but then please do remember that it is a YA novel!
And for all that it is YA, the darkness uncovered are pretty dark and the novel should come with a range of trigger warnings: drink and drug fuelled parties, date rape and sexual abuse… for a YA reader, these are hard hitting issues!
What did really irritate me was Pip’s failure to rely on her family. Her family who were all lovely and supportive and Jackson goes to some lengths to have Pip confirm that over and over again
The giant Nigerian man was quite evidently her stepfather and Joshua her half-brother. But Pip didn’t like using those words, those cold technicalities. The people you love weren’t algebra: to be calculated, subtracted, or held at arm’s length across a decimal point. Victor and Josh weren’t just three-eighths hers, not just forty per cent family, they were fully hers. Her dad and her annoying little brother.
And in fact the whole community and support network Pip has – which is also quietly diverse with characters struggling with anxiety and LGBTQIA+ characters – are so very supportive. And yet, when the threats and stakes started to become terribly real, Pip’s instinct was not to share her fears with them nor to ask their advice nor to seek their support but to shut herself off from them. I did put the book down on a couple of points and shout “Just talk to your mum!”
Anyway, in conclusion I did love this book – not perfect but a great read and within the YA readership a standout read! And the joyous news is that the sequel came out this year too!
Plot / Pace:
Page Count: 448
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Date: 2 May 2019