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Good Me Bad Me


Good Me Bad Me

Ali Land’s debut novel, GOOD ME BAD ME, capitalizes on our fascination with serial killers, but turns the perspective upside down by giving us the point of view of a child of a murderer. With a rapid-fire interior dialogue and a slow burn of tension, Land follows teenager Annie after she turns her mother into the police, as she prepares to testify against her, and as she does her best to find a new home and new family in the aftermath of her exceptionally abusive childhood.

Annie is just 15 years old but has suffered all her life at the hands of her sadistic and monstrous mother. Besides the physical and emotional trauma inflicted on Annie herself, she was also witness to the torture and murder of nine young children in her home. The most recent, a boy named Daniel towards whom Annie felt affectionate and protective, compelled her to call the police on her mother. Annie was quickly placed in the care of a psychologist, Mike, with the complicated roles of fostering her in his home, counseling her, and getting her ready for her mother’s trial.

"Overall, GOOD ME BAD ME is a gripping tale. While some of the themes and ideas could’ve been explored more deeply...the novel remains darkly entertaining and a promising debut."

But life with Mike, his wife Saskia, and their daughter Phoebe is anything but a peaceful respite for Annie, now called Milly to ensure her privacy. Phoebe is jealous of the time Mike spends with Annie and is struggling in her relationship with her mother. Saskia is medicated and distant, yet conducting an affair. Mike, either clueless or unable to help the women in his own family, focuses his efforts on Annie, who he is planning to write about in a book. School is made uncomfortable for Annie as Phoebe and her friends bully her, and when she forms an attachment with a kind teacher, she is told she needs to back off. But worst of all for Annie is the constant voice of her mother in her head and the endless barrage of memories of a parent, the only family she has ever known, who treated her so cruelly.

Annie moves toward the inevitable conclusion as she outplays her foster family, tries to create a real friendship with a young neighborhood girl, and attempts to act like a normal teenage student, all the while battling the demons in her mind and the twisted view of relationships that her mother instilled in her. GOOD ME BAD ME starts out intense and captivating. Land reveals Annie’s past and the extent of her mother’s crimes and abuses slowly, wisely leaving details to the reader’s imagination.

GOOD ME BAD ME is written in a furious staccato style. Sentences are short bursts of emotion and response as Annie mentally addresses her mother. Some are just a single word and at times are placed in a row. This works in moments of high tension and fervor, but Land falls back on it too often, and it loses its power as the novel wears on. The book also loses some of its tenseness as it moves toward the conclusion because there is a lot of repetition and not always a lot of action. Land knew where she was going in terms of plotting, but the energy falters in the last third.

Overall, GOOD ME BAD ME is a gripping tale. While some of the themes and ideas could’ve been explored more deeply, such as Mike’s responsibility to Annie and Annie’s real inability to transition to a normal life, the novel remains darkly entertaining and a promising debut.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 8, 2017

Good Me Bad Me
by Ali Land