Nice Girls by Catherine Dang, 4 Stars

Mary used to be such a nice girl. She was the resident whiz kid of Liberty Lake, Minnesota—the quiet, chubby teen with the scholarship to an Ivy League school. But three years later, “Ivy League Mary” is back—a thinner, cynical, restless failure who was kicked out of Cor­nell at the beginning of her senior year and won’t tell anyone why. Taking a job at the local grocery store, Mary tries to make sense of her life’s sharp downward spiral.

Then beautiful, magnetic Olivia Willand goes missing. A rising social media star, Olivia is admired by everyone in Liberty Lake—except Mary. Once Olivia’s best friend, Mary knows better than anyone that behind the Instagram persona hides a willful, manipulative girl with sharp edges. As the town obsesses over perfect, lovely Olivia, Mary wonders if her disappearance might be tied to another missing person: nineteen-year-old DeMaria Jackson, whose case has been widely dismissed as a runaway.

Who is the real Olivia Willand, and where did she go? What happened to DeMaria? As Mary pries at the cracks in the careful facades surrounding the two missing girls, old wounds will bleed fresh and force her to confront a horrible truth.

Maybe there are no nice girls, after all.

Praise for Nice Girls:

“Dang captures the surface cynicism a young college student like Mary would adopt to mask the flameout of potential, itself the product of simmering rage against multiple forms of alienation, particularly of a class variety. . . . But Dang smartly pivots the novel into a greater reflection of savior complexes and the ways we can be blinded by projected images rather than remaining true to ourselves.” — New York Times Book Review

“A thriller that offers a tongue-in-cheek take on the idea of “Minnesota nice,” this story is about a girl who moves back to her Midwestern hometown and finds herself wrapped up in the murder of a local social media star.” — Entertainment Weekly, 15 Must-Read September Books

“If you’re a total true crime addict, Catherine Dang’s debut novel will have you hooked real fast. It follows a nice girl turned cynical failure who mysteriously got kicked out of college her senior year. When she meddles in the cases of two missing girls, she ends up facing a devastating truth.” — Cosmopolitan, 15 Compelling Fall 2021 Books to Add to Your Reading List

“Nice girls don’t get kicked out of college in their senior year, they don’t move back to the hometown they swore to escape from and they definitely don’t get involved in the disappearance of their childhood frenemy. But that’s exactly what Mary does in this engrossing and sharp debut that true crime fans will devour faster than an episode of My Favorite Murder.” — E! Online

My Review:

It’s pretty much every overachiever’s nightmare to flunk out of college and have to return home to their dead end hometown where not only will their live suck, but everyone they hated in college will know they’ve failed. Yup. And this is exactly what has happened to Mary. In high school, they called her “Ivy League Mary” because she was one of their only classmates to get into an Ivy League school. And it’s the only remarkable thing about the awkward, slightly overweight wallflower that she was back then.

Mary reinvented herself in college. She lost weight, found a new group of friends and was thriving. That is until the “incident.” Now she’s back where she started and life is bizarre. The star football player is an assistant manager at a grocery store and the “it girl” who was also her BFF as a child before they migrated to different social groups has gone missing.

I appreciated the diversity of the characters in this one, it painted a broad picture of the sad fact that often times the pretty blond girl is all over the media when she disappears, but the media pays very little attention to the single black mom who went missing. But beyond that, it was just a good read. Dang paints compelling characters who perfectly capture that awkward stage between high school and adulthood when we are all just trying to figure out who we are. Set against the backdrop of a possible serial killer of course.

Special thanks to Netgalley and William Morrow for an advanced e-galley in exchange for my honest review. This one was out September 14, 2021. Get your copy!


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