Good Me, Bad Me by debut author Ali Land has had such a lot of attention since it was published last year that I couldn’t resist checking it out. I’m totally glad I did as I was riveted from the start. This is the most powerful, cleverly written book I’ve read in a while – and it’s oh so dark. And the ending!!!
Here’s the blurb:
Good Me Bad Me is dark, compelling, voice-driven psychological suspense by debut author Ali Land.
How far does the apple really fall from the tree?
Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.
But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.
When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.
The premise is startling – the daughter of a serial killer has turned in her mother to the police. Now, while she prepares to give evidence against her mother in court, 15-year-old Annie-turned-Milly is living with a foster family under a new identity to protect her from retribution by parents of the mother’s ten or so victims (all boys), along with presumably her mother and anyone else. Milly’s foster father, the well-intentioned psychologist Mike, makes a habit of rescuing children and is valiantly trying to hold his unappreciative family together: his fragile, unsuited-to-motherhood wife Saskia and their vindictive, insecure daughter Phoebe who develops an instant hatred of Milly and starts bullying her at school.
All this certainly didn’t seem a very likely scenario, as there’s not many female serial killers in real life for a start, and for worker in a women’s refuge to get away with killing so many children of the women staying there implies that the police must be pretty inept. Also it did seem odd that Mike could actually have counselling sessions with Milly in his house while being her foster father – surely that would be a conflict of interest? There are credible details of court procedures and social workers though, and enough ‘realism’ to make me go along with the situation.
But no matter how audacious the plot, I found myself totally immersed. The story feels absolutely authentic in a psychological sense. The novel’s narrator, Annie/Milly is utterly convincing as a teenager haunted by both the choices she made in a house of horrors and by her mother, whose presence constantly returns. Much of Milly writes is addressed to a ‘You’, her absent mother. The times when her hideously transformed mother comes to ‘visit’ Milly are chilling, along with Milly’s memories of what happened in the house. (She was living alone with her mother when the boys were murdered and disposed of inside the house, all of whom were children of women from the refuge where Milly’s mother worked.)
Mercifully, Ms Land does not go into much explicit detail concerning the torture and murder of the boys, beyond occasional references (e.g. ‘the playground’; ‘little somethings’). The restraint is effective, as is the gradual revealing of what most troubles and nags at Annie/Milly. She asks herself, can I ever overcome the influence of my mother – and which version of me will triumph, the good me or the bad me?
Very cleverly, the author kept me in suspense and constantly changing my mind over which path she would take. As Milly befriends Morgan, another neglected girl from a council estate, whose poverty contrasts with the foster family’s middleclass privilege, the full meaning of the ‘good me’ and the ‘bad me’ begins to become concrete, ramping up the tension.
There are fascinating ideas at the heart of Good Me, Bad Me. How likely is the child of psychopath likely to have similar tendencies, whether through genes or upbringing? Can such a child ever hope to be ‘normal’? Is there ever a real choice to be made between the paths of good and evil, or this something predestined or beyond choice?
The voice of Milly grabbed me the most about this novel, though. In simple, often fractured prose, it stunningly conveys the complexity of a girl who cannot escape the relationship with her mother – her desperate need to belong and be loved, her loyalty yet ambivalence towards her mother, her guilt through being made complicit in her mother’s terrible crimes. I could relate to Milly as she tried to do the right thing, while fending off the memories of being brought up by an abusive, self-absorbed mother. And then I felt the rug being pulled away…
Milly is an unreliable narrator par excellence, withholding information and her real emotions from both her foster father/counsellor, the art teacher who encourages her, the girl she befriends, the cruel Phoebe and just about everyone around her – as well as the reader, we come to realise as Milly dispenses just enough of the truth to tease and mislead.
Highly recommended for lovers of ultra-dark psychological novels. It’s the second ‘evil mother novel’ I’ve read recently (the other being the wonderful Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine), and of the two Good Me, Bad Me definitely wins the most chilling mother award.
Blind Side now on Kindle Unlimited
Yes, my book is now available to read for free if you’re in Amazon’s KU plan (ebook only). The normal Kindle price is £2.99. Here’s the link: