“The forest had claws and teeth.”
The opening words to Final Girls and we are thrown into the beginning of a horror story. A girl, screaming, running through a forest covered in blood, trying to escape death that follows her. This is how we meet Quincy Carpenter.
We are thrown abruptly from the past and land jarringly in the future, years after that horrific night. Quincy, the sole survivor of a massacre, now a successful baking blogger, living her life as if she isn’t severely scarred from that night. Perhaps she isn’t, as she doesn’t remember a thing about that night. Nothing except the briefest of glimpses. She’s decided that’s a good thing. Besides her memory lapse and her daily Xanax, Quincy really has put the past behind her.
If only the world would let her stay forgotten.
Quincy is part of an infamous, exclusive, tiny group known to the world as The Final Girls. Girls who through luck, or fate, have survived horrific mass slaughters. A term from horror films, and popularized in the media, and used to describe Quincy. And two other. Only two others. Lisa, the first, survived the slaughter in her sorority house when a dropout took his revenge by stabbing every girl in the house. Lisa managed to kill him and nearly died herself before help arrived. And Sam, a maid working the night shift at a small motel in Florida, who managed to escape the killing spree of the Sack Man.
“What if I don’t want to be a Final Girl? That’s not your choice. It’s already been decided for you. You can’t change what’s happened. The only thing you can control is how you deal with it.”
Quincy never wanted to be a Final Girl. She never wanted to be a victim. She never wanted to stay a victim. So she keeps Lisa at a distance, never accepting her help or her support or her guidance. Sam makes it easy by disappearing entirely.
Except, Lisa ends up dead, and then Sam shows up on her doorstep. Everything Quincy has worked so hard to put behind her, is suddenly refusing to be pushed aside anymore. Suddenly, having Sam in her apartment makes her realize how alone she has feels. How alone she has felt since that night. And while having Sam around isn’t easy, Quincy isn’t sure she wants to let her go either.
“Jeff doesn’t know what it’s like to have one of only two people just like you snatched from this earth. He doesn’t know how sad and scary and confusing that feels.”
But for all that Quincy likes having Sam around, Sam seems intent on pushing Quincy to remember. She brings up emotions that Quincy has worked had to keep stuffed deep down inside. Feelings that could trigger memories and flashbacks that she doesn’t want triggered. Quincy begins behaving in ways that shock her, but she is unable to stop herself. As new details about Lisa’s death emerge, Quincy feels the control she has so kept tightly leashed for a decade begin to loosen and unfurl.
“I laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. We’re just two massacre survivors downing Xanax. Lisa would not have approved.”
We get glimpses into that night. The pieces that Quincy remembers. The before. And the after. Each memory told to draw out the suspense of that night. The effect of this interspersed recall builds not just the terror but the mystery of the night as well. Will we finally be able to see what actually happened?
This book isn’t a gripping, hold you to the edge of your seat, action packed thriller. But it is thrilling and intense in a different way. Quincy is very similar to many female leads in typical slasher films. She makes decisions that you’re screaming at her not to make and does things you want to scream at her not to do. However, Sager firmly establishes in the beginning that Quincy is Queen of the town Denial, so her decisions and actions are going to be erratic and foolish and at times desperate. We know it going in.
And while we don’t get a horror movie in the entire book, we get it in the flashbacks, which read like segments of these films. It’s interesting to me how breaking these scenes up into these brief flashbacks, actually increased the suspense for me. Each glimpse made me want more. Each memory revealed a little bit more of Quincy. And with each flash we start to understand why she doesn’t want to remember anything at all.
Final Girls combines the slow intensity of a psychological thriller with the shocking violence of a horror film. The dramatic difference between the two experiences is enough to keep you off balance while you’re reading. I don’t know how predictable the ending was because honestly, I wasn’t even trying to figure it out, I was simply pulled along for the ride.
If you’ve never been in a situation where you’ve tried to hide from your past, or deny who you are, Quincy may seem difficult to understand. For me, she made sense, and part of the intensity was watching that grasp over her identity slip. It was fascinating reading the flashbacks in relation to this to see a before and an after. Who she was and who she decided to be. And then who is underneath.
“What will I feel more of? The bad or the good?” “That’s the weird part. They’re one and the same.”
This book is dark and a delight to read. It’s a book that let’s your imagination get ahead of yourself as you think about the possibilities. Not just of the horrors of that night. But everything that follows. To survive is more than a single event. It’s more than simply walking out of the woods alive. It is a daily occurrence. Something that takes constant effort. And then Sagar makes us wonder what happens when events force you to relive that trauma.
For Quincy, the monster is both real and imagined. There was a monster. One who lived and killed and died. And then there’s the one in her head. The one who lives on and on and on.
We are entering the season of haunted houses and thrills. Jump into the season right, and read this book.
Thank you to Read It Forward and Dutton Books for giving away this book!