Danforth, Emily M. Plain Bad Heroines. William Morrow. 2020. $27.99. 619 p. HC. 9780062942852.
Brookhants School for Girls hasn’t always been haunted, but it might as well have been, and by now its reputation is irrefutable. So too are the reputations of the various women who have loved each other under its roof, and their untimely deaths, beginning in 1902. But now there’s a movie being made, and three more women will get to tell the stories of those who came before, while seeing if there’s any truth to the rumors.
This is a great queer ghost story, with so many subplots and revelations and timelines that it sounds like you might easily get confused. You won’t. The backstory unfolds just slowly enough to make you feel the suspense without making you so impatient that you set the book down in frustration. You’ll want to know what happens next. The large cast of characters, divided into multiple timelines, each have their own impetus in moving the plot forward, and the strings that tie them together highlight their similarities without tying them so closely together that you can’t tell them apart. It is a delicate balance, which Danforth maneuvers as though it were the easiest thing in the world.
Another great strength of this book is in the way it plays with expectations, allowing readers to either believe in the premise or dismiss it entirely, both presented as valid options. It also casually asserts the fact that women loving women is not a new phenomenon, and is one of those rare books in which coming out isn’t the crux of the queer characters narratives.
Interspersed with period black and white sketches, this adult novel is accessible to young adult readers as well, and will inspire a sort of nostalgia in older readers who haven’t read a book with illustrations in many years. This is a great read for someone who wants a little prickle on the back of their neck and a little warmth in their queer heart.
Nadia M Sahi