I gave myself some homework to complete before I would allow myself to pick up this book. I watched Heathers for the first time and it really helped having it fresh in my mind when I began reading. I understood references that likely would have whooshed over my head unnoticed otherwise and having just watched a revenge fantasy story, I had some idea of what was to come.
No one knows what she can do. No one has ever known.
Lottie and Stevie have been best friends all their lives. Stevie spends so much time at Lottie’s house she’s practically family and Lottie’s mother, Rhonda, is like a second mother to her. Lottie is a bookworm and Stevie loves movies (primarily those made between 1975 and 1995) so much that she’s had her own YouTube channel, FlickChick, since she was twelve.
Woepine High is like every other school: there’s a hierarchy.
The popular kids in their year have an undisputed leader – Athlete Barbie, A.K.A, Breanne. Then there’s Paige, Breanne’s “second in command”, and Paige’s boyfriend, Aidan. Lottie and Stevie have recently and quite accidentally become friends with them.
Some kind of wall went up when we started hanging out with all of them, and I’m not sure where the door is.
When a series of events results in Stevie being relentlessly bullied by ex-friends, other students and even complete strangers, her entire world comes crashing down and she has no one to turn to. Except Dee, the new girl.
“It’s people like us against the world, Stevie.”
Dee, who understands what Stevie’s going through. Dee, who decides it’s time the bullies were taught a lesson. Anonymously, of course. Each prank is accompanied by a message written in red lipstick: “LOVE, HEATHER”, an homage to teen revenge movie Heathers.
These acts of “mischief” soon take on a life of their own. The stakes are raised exponentially, with creative and sometimes brutal acts of revenge being played out across the school and beyond. What began with bullies being targeted becomes something where it’s harder to draw a line between bully and victim.
I mean, it’s hard to know who to root for, isn’t it?
I’ve agonised about what to write in this review for a couple of days. There was so much I loved about this book but there were also a couple of key points in the story that didn’t ring true and/or disappointed me. Please keep in mind that while yes, I had some niggles, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will agree with me.
After establishing the history of Stevie and Lottie’s friendship and Stevie’s sudden social pariah status, I felt this book then took off like a rocket. I was immersed in the acts of revenge and am fairly certain teenage me would have imagined some creative vigilante themed fantasies if I’d read this book then, much like when I conceived (but never acted upon) my own versions of poetic justice as I cheered Matilda on from the sidelines. Revenge fantasies are always fun, with their drama and the opportunity to cheer on underdogs.
If nothing else, this book reinforced my gratitude that I didn’t grow up surrounded by social media. Bullying is horrific enough when it’s physical and/or verbal. I can’t even imagine how the effects are compounded now that it follows you into your home, on your phone and spreading like a virus on the internet, where strangers can add fuel to the fire. Besides bullying, this book also delves into other complex and emotionally charged areas, including rape culture and gender identity.
Because I’m old now I have seen, or at least knew the general plot of, most of the movies referenced in this book but I’d be surprised if most young adults would have heard of the majority of them, unless their parents have introduced them to the movies they themselves grew up with. The lack of familiarity with these movies could potentially lead to the target audience not understanding some of the references to them in this book.
I found Lottie and Stevie’s friendship relatable and empathised with Stevie as she was bombarded with bullying and dealing with isolation. I ached for her as she was consistently let down by her parents. I kept wanting to read more about Pete and couldn’t decide if I was more interested in having them as my friend or teacher. I had problems with the character of Dee but can’t be specific because … spoilers.
I really enjoyed the majority of this book but I had a couple of fairly significant problems with it. When I got to the twist, my reaction pretty much mirrored this:
(Yes, I am binge watching Hart of Dixie at the moment.)
Variations of this particular twist have been done so many times before in so many other books and movies. Because I’ve come across it too many times I’m desensitised to it and I expect I probably even have a bias against it now. It would take something remarkable to occur in conjunction with that particular twist for me to not groan or roll my eyes when I encounter it. My main problem with that twist being in this book was that the psychology of it just didn’t sit right with me. However, to partially undo this entire paragraph, I need to acknowledge that because this book’s target audience are young adults, (i.e., not me) this may well be the first time some readers encounter this particular brand of twist and I hope they are blindsided by it.
My biggest problem with this book was its ending. It felt rushed and too neat. All things considered, the consequences seemed minimal and peoples’ responses to the character in question were too easy. After spending sufficient time setting up the important aspects of the friendships, bullying and pranks, the finale fizzled for me. This was quite a dark book in places and the end felt much too polite. Where was the rage and all of the other complicated feelings that would be expected after what happened?
Sidebar: Had I known before reading this book that Lottie and Stevie had exchanged best friend necklaces I would have called the demise of their friendship immediately, without even reading the blurb. Those curses that came in the innocent forms of hearts that declare you’re ‘BEST FRIENDS’ and break in two so you each get half of the words and heart were the present when I was growing up but whenever anyone I knew shared them, they wound up having a massive, often irreparable, fight shortly afterwards. You may think that this is mere coincidence or paranoia talking but I kid you not: those cutesy charms have some sort of friendship voodoo attached to them! Exchange them with extreme caution! 😜
Content warnings include bullying, eating disorders, sexual assault, racism, transphobia, mention of homophobia and suicide, rape culture, gun violence and mental health.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Award-winning author Laurie Petrou makes her YA debut with this atmospheric thriller exploring the addictive pull of revenge.
What you see isn’t always what you get.
Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee – defiant, bold, indestructible Dee – started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.
It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather – an homage to her favorite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, reveling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.
But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind – and teeth – of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.