It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives.
But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.
Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone ever imagined...
Abigail Haas effectively makes use of unlikable characters. There truly isn't a single person in this book that I liked. The teens are the popular crowd, and, even though their friends, they snipe at and backstab one another. Plus, they're little rich kids whose parents will let them go to Aruba for spring break. They've lived lives of privilege up until one of their party, Elise, is found murdered. Making a story about unlikable characters compelling is difficult to do, but Haas pulled it off.
Haas uses interesting storytelling techniques. She mixes formats, which include regular narrative, call transcripts, text messages and interviews. This worked really well, since it added to the authenticity of the murder and investigation. As is fairly standard in mystery plots, Haas jumps around in time from chapter to chapter, releasing little bits of information in a controlled manner. The reader's forced to piece things together and try to combine them into a larger picture. This gives the reader time to make their theories, effectively the judge of Anna's trial for the premeditated murder of Elise Warren. Even though I wasn't that tied in, I HAD to keep reading to know what happened and it was definitely worth it.
What makes Dangerous Girls so dark and shocking is the peek into the legal system. We grow up learning about "innocent until proven guilty" and assume that justice will be done. That's not necessarily the case though. Detectives have their own agendas, as do witnesses. The deals that the prosecution will cut with at least somewhat guilty parties in order to obtain information on a guiltier party are shady and unfair. Basically, it's terrifying, because, as much as we've been told otherwise, the justice system is actually stacked against the defendant. Thinking about a teen girl spending months in prison, even if she's found innocent, and most of her life if found guilty, is a hard thing. Of course, this takes place in Aruba, not America, but the principles aren't all that different based on what I've learned about law, which is somewhat minimal but still.
What Left Me Wanting More:
I think what left me wanting in Dangerous Girls was that everything was a bit too vague. The ending was satisfying, but I think the book could have been even more fascinating and shocking if Haas hadn't skimmed over some details. For example, the relationship between Elise and Anna obviously went beyond friendship, but nothing's really made of that. I'm not sure if it's a hesitance to delve into lesbianism/bisexuality or what, but putting it there without delving into the way that complicates their relationship is half-hearted.
The Final Verdict:
Mystery fans will want to check out Dangerous Girls, a unique young adult read.
The popular, rich crowd in high school has always been hated and adored by everyone. Always. Simultaneously. We follow them on a Spring Break trip to Aruba and the teens do typical teen things. (As a side note, I'm 21, and I still haven't gotten to their crazy point yet.) And then someone in their party dies.
No one knows exactly what happened, so the investigation starts.
"Wouldn't we all look guilty if someone searched hard enough?"
That's the line that makes me doubt my existence, mostly because it's true. Dangerous Girls is told through many different time points, alternating back and forth between the present (interviews, talk shows, character interactions after the fact), and the past (how the characters met, what they did at Aruba, etc.). This style of writing can get very confusing, but it also keeps the suspense up and going.