The Official Blurb
‘NEW N A M E .
NEW F A M I L Y.
S H I N Y.
ME . ‘
Annie’s mother is a serial killer.
The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.
But out of sight is not out of mind.
As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly.
A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
Good me, bad me.
She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…
Annie is a child with a dark past. Her mother is a serial killer who abused and murdered young children. She forces Annie to watch her, subjecting her to abuse should she refuse. She doesn’t love her daughter. Annie is merely the mask she wears for the world – respected Nurse and loving mother.
When her last victim is someone that Annie knows, someone she has played with, she realises that there is only one way to stop her mother. To report her to the police. But in doing so, her nightmare does not end as she hope it will. There is still the trial to get through and after all of the years together her mother can never truly leave her. She is always there, inside her head, mocking her for not acting sooner.
Given a new name and a new chance, Annie, now known as Milly, goes to live with a temporary foster family. Mike and Saskia seem perfect, even though Mike is a Psychologist who is determined to help Milly through her therapy, even if she doesn’t feel she wants it. But their teenage daughter Phoebe is another matter. She resents Milly’s presence in their home and seems determined to make her life at school as unbearable as possible, knowing that it is only a matter of time before Milly will be sent away again. With only Morgan, a young girl from a neighbouring estate, as a friend, can Milly find any kind of peace with her new family or is she destined to always be haunted by the ghosts of her past?
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land is an intriguing read and probably one of the truest psychological thrillers I have read in some time. Billed as one of the biggest books of 2017, I can see why that may well be the case. The protagonist, Milly, inside whose head most of the action takes place or is recounted, is a very disturbed young girl. And who wouldn’t be having been forced to live with and endure the whims of a psychopath like her mother. However, for me… Well I’m just not so sure. I wasn’t when I read the book and I’m still not now. I’m kind of on the fence and for me it’s a very uncomfortable place to be.
This is a very well written book. The language matches the mood and I can really picture what it must be like to be Annie/Milly, struggling to adjust to a normal life and always haunted by the things she was forced to witness. As a reader I felt both a mixture of sympathy for and also wariness of her and Ali Land has made a perfect balance in this. We are never subjected to the full gory details of what happened in her family home. There are just hints, dropped here and there, although it is clear that both Annie and her brother, who was taken from the home many years before, had been subjected to both physical and sexual abuse. The symbolism that Land uses in describing this, the imagery of the snake slithering towards Annie/Milly, is very effective. Both hypnotic and repulsive or fearsome at the same time.
The people surrounding Milly in her new life are very well established. Mike seems to have the utmost concern for her and tries hard to engage Milly and help her settle. Saskia is a woman with her own secrets, a bit of a wet lettuce who Milly soon gets the measure of, and her case worker, June, is only really on the periphery but we sense her genuine concern for Milly. Morgan is a bright young girl, rough at the edges and Milly’s only real friend. She is a little feral in some respects but looks up to Milly and the friendship provides safe haven when everything starts to get too much. It is Phoebe however who has the most involvement with and impact upon Milly.
Phoebe is someone who can only really be described as vile. Perhaps you could argue that she is just an insecure teenager who is struggling with all the waifs and strays that her parents bring to her home, seemingly giving them more attention than they do her. Her relationship with Saskia is beyond tense, a complete lack of respect for her mother, and there were many times that I felt she needed some real discipline instilling as nothing she did seemed to have any repercussions. She is horrid to Milly from day one and goes out of her way to make her life miserable becoming the ring leader in a succession of increasingly cruel bullying campaigns at school. There doesn’t seem to be one redeeming quality in her character and I found it difficult to care anything for what befell her.
The story is disturbing in parts, not necessarily from what is said, more from what is implied and left to the readers imagination. This is a well used tool as to describe the horror would have pushed far too many readers right out of the story. However, it also kind of didn’t work for me and I think that this is why I am still so undecided on this book. For all the build up, the mental struggles that Milly went through in the weeks leading up to the trial, the bullying, the nightmares, I was somewhat underwhelmed and not entirely surprised by what came to pass. True, Milly has a very dark mind, but as I said before, what else do you expect? Nature or nurture? In truth, what is it that shapes the mind of a young child? Maybe both. In which case the end is surely inevitable is it not? Whatever the truth, I was just left wanting more.
Another issue I had was with the way in which the story was recounted. There was some limited dialogue, but a lot of conversations were told through Milly’s thoughts and memories which I found a little confusing. If she was there, present in the conversation, why was it not told as such. I’ve seen similar styling used in another book which I really enjoyed but the whole book had been written this way, giving the text an almost ethereal, dreamlike feel about it. I can’t put my finger on why, but it just didn’t work for me here. Perhaps it is meant to signify an element of Milly’s detachment from reality, particularly when Mike is trying to provide therapy. Perhaps this is meant to be Milly’s cocoon, her way of compartmentalizing things she doesn’t want to truly be a part of. I don’t really know, but it just felt odd.
I usually avoid books that tell me they’re the next big thing, or the next this or that because I hate hype and being told what I absolutely must love. Perhaps because this book has been so heavily hyped I was expecting something, I don’t know, huge. For me, this wasn’t quite it. It was still extremely well written with well developed characters and I think will appeal to many fans of true psychological thrillers and as such it gets a solid 4 stars from me.
My thanks to publishers Penguin – Michael Joseph and Netgalley for the ARC of Good Me Bad Me. It is released on 12th January and can be purchased at the following links: