A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (Book Review)

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson is a thrilling page-turner of a mystery with enough shocks and twists to keep you glued to the page. I picked it up and didn’t put it back down until I’d finished it.

I’d been looking forward to this one for a while. It has been sitting comfortably on bestseller lists and trending on #booktok for months. I’d heard nothing but raves for both A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and its sequel Good Girl, Bad Blood, so I did what I always do: I jumped on the bandwagon.

What’s it about?
For her senior project, Pip is ostensibly researching the role of media in the coverage of a local murder. In reality, she’s attempting to solve an old case because in her heart she does not believe the theory—believed wholeheartedly by police and neighbors alike—that local boy Sal murdered his perfect girlfriend and then committed suicide out of regret and shame. Pip knew Sal, and she doesn’t believe he had it in him to kill Andie, so she teams up with his brother Ravi to revisit the old clues in hopes of discovering a new lead.

What’d I think?

This is easily one of the most addictive books I’ve read in recent memory. When I was younger, I did all-day reading binges all the time. I still do them occasionally, but now they’re the exception and not the rule. Only the best, most compelling and exciting books do that to me now. Books like Six of Crows or In Other Lands and now A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. I really did not intend to read all day. I had lots of other things planned, and then Holly Jackson swooped in and ruined all those plans by making Pip and her mystery so dang addictive.

I love a good character-driven story. As I’ve said literally every time I’ve reviewed a mystery, mysteries tend to be more plot-motivated than character-motivated. It is inherently a plot-heavy genre and when the plot is good enough it doesn’t matter if the characters are more motive than person. That said, this makes it a particular treat when a mystery novel focuses in on its characters as closely as if it were a standard contemporary novel. Pip takes up detection only because her connection to this murder is personal. She knows the supposed murderer and feels in her heart that he must be innocent. Sal was Pip’s best friend’s sister, and Pip wants to prove his innocence both to comfort her own sense of wrongness and because she wants to spare Naomi that pain.

As Pip gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, she starts making real discoveries. As she goes, though, she is forced to make difficult decisions. New clues point her towards loved ones, and more than once she has to choose between relentlessly chasing down every lead and protecting the people she cares about, between solving the case and respecting the boundaries of her still-grieving friends and neighbors. Unlike a detached, disconnected detective like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, Pip has to constantly weigh the human element of this mystery: is it worth digging up old wounds and creating new ones to expose the truth of a case that was neatly buried years ago? Pip has a strong moral center, and watching her struggle with this balance is a highlight of the novel.

Pip’s story is also a bildungsroman of sorts. YA often uses the ‘college personal statement essay’ trope to force its characters to look within, but it works really well here with Pip. Pip before the mystery is characterized largely by her work ethic and straight-laced amiability. She doesn’t rock the boat. She does her homework and picks her little brother up from practices and does all the things that good girls do, but she struggles to understand her identity beyond doing what’s expected. Pip finds herself as she hunts for Andie’s true killer (I mean, she also finds Andie’s true killer, but you know what I mean).

It’s also a really effective mystery. There is a very tangled web for Pip to unravel. Unsurprisingly, she discovers quickly that good girl Andie was not actually a good girl, but the extent of the mess Pip uncovers is remarkable. Nearly everyone is implicated in one way or another, but none of it feels convoluted. There’s a creeping sense of menace as the reader—along with Pip—begins to realize that anyone might have done it, and might target Pip next. It’s nerve wracking. You want Pip to figure it out, but you’re terrified by what might happen when she does. There are so many twists and turns that it’s really impossible to put the book down until the very end. The pacing is brilliant.

It’s worth mentioning that A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is definitely in the upper/older half of YA. It has some very dark and difficult subject matter in it. Because it is shelved in YA, I was expected a sort of bloodless, picturesque crime. You know the kind: there’s a body, but it’s not very gruesome and the camera only pans over it quickly before moving onto the fun bits of solving the mystery. I know that YA isn’t all squeaky clean—in fact, I write about that all the time—but I was still surprised by how disturbing A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder gets at points. Jackson does a really good job of depicting everything responsibly, but anyone interested in this book should know that there are some disturbing descriptions of murder, plotlines including rape (statutory rape in one instance, and more straightforward assault in another), discussion of suicide, and more.

It makes it a heck of a lot darker than expected, but I actually loved how sensitively Jackson includes potentially triggering storylines. The racism surrounding Sal and Ravi is maintexted, and several times Pip realizes how much her detective work is enabled by her skin color (white) and good girl reputation. Pip tracks down leads regarding police corruption, rape drugs, inappropriate relationships, catfishing, emotional abuse, blackmail, and revenge porn. Any one of these could tip the book into dicey territory, but Jackson has great control. She knows what she’s doing, and she takes every storylines as seriously as it deserves.

Mostly, though, she tells a good story. I love Pip. I love Ravi. I was fascinated with Andie’s story, and I was desperate to know how everything would end up. I’m usually very good at predicting the ending of mysteries, but I didn’t get this one. I suspected at points, but I never put everything together even though Jackson definitely left all the clues for me. I’m just not as good a detective as Pip.    

If you haven’t read A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder yet, do it. Especially do it if you like mysteries, but it is an exciting, compulsive ride even if mystery isn’t your favorite genre. With Halloween just around the corner, there’s hardly a better time for a terrifying and exciting mystery/thriller! Read it! You won’t regret it.  

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