When I picked up Bad Girls by Alex McAuley, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The cover summed it up as Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies. Hmm. I’m a bit intrigued. It was published by MTV. MTV? Really? I didn’t know they had a publishing division. Further intrigued. Turned to the first page, was immediately sucked in and didn’t put it down until I closed the back cover six or seven hours later. Not that the writing was spectacular, or the story was especially amazing, but it was a well-written, engrossing tale that simply unfolded at its own pace, which happened to be a very quick pace.
Sixteen-year-old Anna Wheeler sneaks back into her parents’ house one night, still on a pot buzz, and falls instantly asleep… only to be shocked back into awareness by two men who have come to take her away. Only when she’s on the porch and sees her parents waiting to say goodbye does Anna realize what has happened: they’ve done this to her. They’ve sent her away, as they, or more specifically, as her father had threatened to do. These two men take her to a plane (after one brief escape attempt gone wrong) where she flies to a small, mostly uninhabited island in the Bahamas.
For the next twelve weeks, Anna will be a cadet (a.k.a. prisoner) at Camp Archstone. Part military school, part reform school, all hell, Camp Archstone is supposed to give these wayward girls character, dignity and self-respect. Just a few days into the program, before any of the girls have much of a chance to size each other up, Anna’s class is heading through the rainforest on a twenty-mile hike. During the hike, things suddenly go very wrong, and the girls find themselves scattered in the rainforest, some alone, some in small groups, all afraid, and not knowing who to trust or where to go.
During the next week or so, Anna and the small group she’s found try and make their way through the rainforest and find rescuers. The dynamics of the group are exactly as stated on the cover: Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies. Anna finds solace in the presence of Stacey, a smaller girl with a big brain and a calming presence. The other girls, however, only serve to put her on edge. Erica is a tough-talking tattooed lesbian who is the quickest to take orders from the beautiful but evil and cruel Kara. Throw in a couple of Kara’s stoolies and a few dispensable characters and you’ve got yourself a pretty gripping tale of Darwin’s survival theory.
Throughout the story, Anna has memories of how she ended up at Camp Archstone in the first place. Memories of her father, how close they used to be, and how they ended up hating each other. Memories of her photography teacher and how he seduced her. Memories of the abortion she had recently and the drugs she took to ease her pain. The entire novel is written in an easy-to-read, easy-to-relate-to fashion. It’s a book about today’s girls, normal girls who happened to get in over their heads in one way or another, and their struggle to reach deep within themselves, after everyone else had given up on them, to find strength they didn’t know was there in order to survive.
For its readability alone, and the fact that it kept my interest through two meals, I have to give Bad Girls a four-star rating.