“I thought you would own less of me after I handed you in but sometimes it feels you own more.”
From the very first pages, Good Me Bad Me grips you in the horrific world of Milly. A teenage girl deeply traumatized. Milly isn’t her real name, but protecting her identity is important since she has to testify against her mother. Who is a serial killer. And Milly is the one who turned her in.
Quick warning, there are triggers everywhere in this book, and while they aren’t exactly graphic in nature, they are there. Sexual abuse, violence and self-harm. This book is a dark look into a troubled mind.
Be prepared to dive deep into uncomfortable territory with this book. Everywhere you look there are murky morals and questionable characters. You would think the villain is easy to spot, the serial killer mother. But, life isn’t always quite so clear. Milly finds herself delivered out of the hands of a sadist, only to be placed in the direct line of fire of spoiled teenage girls.
“One day these boys and girls will run the world. In the meantime, they ruin it.”
And you would think that the comparison to those two realities is trivial and insignificant, yet Land writes both Milly’s new reality in relation to her old so boldly, that you frequently wonder if Milly is indeed in better hands. It’s quite brilliant how Land is able to capture both the inconceivable horror of being raised in such a brutal way, and then to show us the exhausting drain and torment of living with a bully.
The irony that the bully is the daughter of a prominent psychologist who has offered to foster Milly and help her prepare for the upcoming trial simply adds more realism to the book. It’s often those we love who can’t see us at all. Yet Milly seems able to see more clearly than everyone else. She is hyper aware of the hypocrisy and injustice around her. She sees the motives and lies the people around her tell not just each other, but also themselves.
“The world turns on a million different looks. Glances. I work hard to decipher them, harder than most.”
We see into Milly’s mind, her internal thoughts and struggles. She was raised in a world of pain and torment. She received and watched both given freely, taught that these things equal love. So even though she has been removed from this existence, her new life is just as isolated since no one except her foster parents know of her past. She is given a new life, but she can’t openly face her old one.
Being thrown into Milly’s head for the entirety of the novel lets us experience how her past and present conflict with each other. We see the torment she lives in her dreams and memories. Only to wake up and face a different set of torments in real life. Both realities have their own traumas. Both realities would shape a child irreparably as they grow. So it is a grisly fascination to watch how living through both could possible shape Milly.
“It’s the chapter on the children of psychopaths that interests me the most. The confusion a child feels when violence is mixed with tenderness. Push and pull. A hyper vigilance, never knowing what to expect, but knowing to expect something.”
It’s hard not to sympathize with Milly. To feel that she is being given a bad break all around. And yet, it’s still difficult not to be leery of her as well. She is the child of a killer. And openly worries that she’s a product of her environment. She is only letting her peers and teachers see one side of her, so is she only letting the reader see one side as well?
We can only watch, transfixed by Milly and her memories. The nightmares, and memories, daily bullying, and stress of being the sole key witness in a trial against her mother culminates to a breaking point in Milly. We are faced with the question, when she breaks, which Milly will win?
This book is phenomenal. While it is deeply disturbing, I love a book filled with moral ambiguity. Where good isn’t bad and bad isn’t good. Especially in cases where you think it should be. Life rarely is so clear cut, and I appreciate an author willing to dive into the depths of that grey area. I love it when they succeed, even if the result is haunting and chilling.
I was simply blown away with Good Me Bad Me. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how this dark thriller crept into my brain and found a home. I’ve always been a firm believer in facing the worst in yourself to find who you want to be, and Milly does that to the extreme. Her worst is the makings of nightmares, and yet she still tries to be normal. To not be her mother. The effort alone is worth applause.
This novel is even more delicious with the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but talk about morally ambiguous! It took me awhile to even digest how I felt about what happened. These are the types of endings I live for in a novel! Make me think and wonder. Force me to really dive deep into my own skeletons and fears. Really make me face my demons.
Again, this is a dark novel, and while violence isn’t necessarily graphic, you tread down some twisted paths. But if you like to traipse on the dark side, and waltz with the devil on a foggy midnight from time to time, Good Me Bad Me is waiting for you.
Thank you BookSparks and Flatiron Books for sending me this intense thriller as part of the Fall Reads Challenge.