“A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson is a story following teenager Pippa Fitz Amobi who has become rather obsessed with an “open and shut” case of murder 5 years ago in her town. Sal Singh took the fall for the death of his girlfriend, Andie Bell after he was found dead in the woods – an apparent murder-suicide. Andie’s body remains undiscovered and Pippa is convinced that Sal is, in fact, completely innocent. She decides to focus on the case as part of a school project (albeit under a much different title), and sets out to discover the truth of what happened to Andie Bell.
I’ve picked up a few young adult murder-mystery type books recently because, well … I want to write one. Thus, in these reviews, I tend to think about more “writerly” things like structure and character development. At least, I try to. For this review, I actually kept notes whilst reading (probably nothing new for other reviewers, but hey, I’m new at this and trying my best).
Overall, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” is a solid book. The mystery is very intriguing and had me guessing and guessing along the way (never being right, of course). It kept my interest, and I looked forward to reading the next chapter. That’s what you want, right? It wasn’t without its flaws, though, and I still wish my prediction had come true (haha), but overall, it was very well written, well structured and I would happily recommend it to anyone interested in the genre.
One of the first things to point out is that this novel swaps between first and third person perspective. It’s not something I’ve seen often, and not something I often see done well. I was apprehensive when I noticed it as first, as it can be a bit jarring as a reader; it can pull me out of my immersion in the world.
However, Pippa’s first person narrative is presented in the form of her project’s report or log. I thought this was a very clever choice to make the difference in perspective voice a little less jarring; it creates a connection between the two narratives, and I think it worked really well this way.
The problem of info dumping
The first few chapters are told through Pippa’s logs/records. She is telling us, the reader, about her project, and about the Andie Bell case. Naturally, this meant a lot of “info dumping”. Of course, it couldn’t really be avoided; the reader needs to know what happened five years ago to understand the current plot. So, I don’t really know if I should count this as a “problem” in the book. It both is and isn’t a problem.
It’s completely necessary for the reader to simply be fed information about the case but maybe … it could’ve been told in segments, spread out a little more rather than all at once. It’s really tough to say, especially when the narrative is part of her report – of course she’d note down every detail to start with. I guess that’s the crux in choosing this kind of narrative structure.
Use of Graphics and Illustration
Another thing that was really cool about this “report” structure, was the use of graphs, text message screenshots and other little graphics within the novel. It really made those sections feel like you were really reading her reports, rather than the author just saying they’re reports, if that makes sense.
I just really loved this idea, that’s it!
The Problems with Pippa as a Character
Now, I want to talk about what I think may have been the weak point of this novel. As I said, I think the story was brilliant and very well crafted. But the one thing I felt was lacking … was the character of Pippa.
From the title, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder”, we’re led to believe that Pippa is your typical straight-A, straight edge student who would never dare break a rule. But outside of the title, I don’t think these traits come through all that much at all. Yes, we get some scenes where she’s studying hard for her tests, and looking after her friends, so we get some idea that she’s the kind, sensitive girl, but little more than that.
The title would’ve led me to expect a character who’s a bit more stuck in her ways, cautious and ambitious. Then, I would’ve expected her to be forced to break her own rules and to step well out of her comfort zone, in order to meet her goals. That’s the expected character arc here, right? But I felt like we didn’t get that from Pippa. Pippa was determined from the get-go to do whatever it takes to meet her goals. Nothing was going to stop her. I think it would’ve been great to see a bit more hesitancy from her along the way, a bit more caution (especially about rule breaking and partying etc., the typical not-good-girl stuff). There was great opportunity for strong internal conflict there that I just feel like the novel missed the mark on.
Maybe, I think, we didn’t get enough time to see Pippa as a character outside of Andie’s case. From the start, it was like her entire character was framed around the case. We got some scenes with her family and friends sure, and maybe they just went over my head a little, but I definitely feel like there could’ve been a bit more setup to show Pippa and her everyday life, so we could connect with her a little more.
If you’ve heard of the “Hero’s Journey” narrative structure, the first point is called “the ordinary world” where we see the hero in their everyday life. Then, the second point is “call to adventure” where something happens to push the character into doing something, i.e. the plot. So, (not that this structure has to be followed), I think we skipped the first step here, and I definitely felt it.
Overall, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” is a very strong novel that I would definitely recommend to anyone looking for some crime solving intermixed with teen drama.