‘The Perfect Girl’ by Gilly Macmillan

The PErfect Girl

Zoe Maisey is a child prodigy. With an unbelievably high i.q. and a natural talent for the piano, she easily gained a scholarship for a top private school in Devon. But in private schools, being a scholarship student just isn’t good enough, and Zoe found herself the victim of bullying and harassment. When once ill informed decision leads to the death of three of her school friends, Zoe’s life is changed forever and all that once seemed destined to be is no longer part of her future.

Trying hard to rebuild their lives, Zoe’s mother found a second chance at love, their second chance family. Bonding over their children, Zoe and Lucas’s piano achievements, Maria and Tom seem to have the perfect relationship, Maria settling into their new perfect family home with ease. There is only one problem. Maria has never told Chris about Zoe’s past.

The concert was meant to be Zoe’s come back. Her first real public performance and a chance for her to start again. But not everyone is happy to see her performing in their community and Zoe and Maria are soon to find that keeping secrets from your family is never a good idea. Because that evening the perfect ‘second chance family’ starts slowly falling apart and by the end of the evening, Maria is dead.

‘The Perfect Girl’ is an intriguing idea. The story opens as the concert is about to take place but from then on in the action is no longer chronological. The current events, the aftermath of Maria’s death, is interspersed with flashbacks to the events of the previous evening that have led to the current situation. Added to this are a few scenes which take the reader back to the night of the accident that changed Zoe’s life, the real root cause of the conflict, if only because Maria lied about it.

The characters are well fleshed out. We learn much about each of them throughout the narrative, about what makes them tick, about their motivations and their concerns. There is a clear tension within the family and not only because Of the lie by omission. There is an underlying darkness about Chris’s controlled behaviour and the manner in which he manipulates his family, especially Lucas, which is very clear throughout and well written and observed.

The story does touch upon some sensitive subjects; internet trolling and domestic abuse, but none are overdone. If anything, the real abuse in the narrative is played down a little by the manner in which it is presented to the reader – by way of screenplay/script written by Lucas and sent to Zoe and Maria. If I am honest, I found this to be a little contrived and skipped bits of the action between the dialogue, but it did, to a point, inform the story.

For me, there were a few too many voices being used to tell the story. Predominantly it was the voices of Zoe and her Aunt, Tessa, but then you also got the point of view of Lucas through the script and Tessa’s husband, Richard and also, strangely, Zoe’s solicitor from the old court case, Sam, Who happens to be having an affair with Tessa. After just happening to move to Bristol the same as Zoe and Maria did. And who Zoe happens to find and call when her mother dies. It’s a bit too convenient and for all that Sam adds to the actual story, the bits of flashback could have been told by anyone else, so the character felt a little redundant to me. There also wasn’t much to distinguish one voice from the next and I found myself having to double check who I was ‘listening’ to at times. It was also a little confusing with the lack of chronology in the present day, bouncing back and forth between Sunday night and Monday, with the addition of the flashbacks to the night of the accident. The flashbacks may have worked if the rest was told in the order of events, but as it was it felt a little like getting whiplash, my mind bouncing back and forth all over the place.

As I said at the start, this was an intriguing idea, but I struggled with the reasons behind why Maria wasn’t just honest about the accident from the start. It’s not the worst thing that can have happened in a child’s life, no matter how ‘embarrassing’. From the point of view of a ‘who-dunnit’, the suspicion bounces around a little before being firmly pointed in one direction. The ending, while surprising and probably deserved, still felt a bit of an anti-climax.

The writing is solid and, if you can keep up with the constant date changes, the pace good. The tension builds slowly and you can feel the unease as Zoe interacts with her step-father and the strange, subdued behaviour of Lucas. It just didn’t quite pop for me as being that suspenseful, with the whole investigation being wrapped up in less than twenty-four hours. Writing off Zoe’s baby sister as a viable suspect, it could only ever really be down to one or two people and perhaps from the introduction of the ‘script’ the likely resolution was almost inevitable. It was still enjoyable but not as thrilling as I had hoped.

3.5 stars.

My thanks to publishers Little, Brown Book Group UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my review.