Review: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Within the last six months, I’ve read two Cat Clarke books. Entangled and A Kiss in the Dark. Both were chilling in some way, with plot twists that had me throwing the book to the other side of the room and hugging a pillow to my chest. She knows how to write a thriller, and with a tagline like ‘Sugar and spice and scars for life’, you know when you’re getting in, you’re getting in deep. Unfortunately, Cat’s reputation for writing YA thrillers ultimately led to both of us being like ‘Wait….was that it?’ With that said, Girlhood is my favourite of her books so far because of the different, less mysterious tone. And it takes place in a boarding school, so that’s a guaranteed win.

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Girlhood tells the story of Harper, who’s twin sister, Jenna, died three years ago from an eating disorder that Harper believed this caused. After Jenna died, the family actually won the lottery (go figure) and meant that Harper could escape her old life in favour of an old Scottish castle boarding school. I was rubbing my hands together in excitement that this would be the creepier version of Carmen Reid’s old Secrets of St. Jude’s books, and I was….kind of right. Harper makes a good group of friends while she’s there, which gets completely disrupted when new girl Kirsty gets on the scene, with a tragic past to match Harper’s own. The pair really bond, but there’s something not quite right about Kirsty and it takes Harper the whole book to figure out exactly what’s sketchy.

I really enjoyed the vibe. Like I said, it was different to expected, but it meant that I was constantly on edge. The matchsticks on the cover are in reference to a task all new girls have to perform: staying in a dank hole all night to prove their worthiness. That whole section was really atmospheric, and you got a great sense of each of the characters.

As far as pacing goes, it felt odd. Harper’s backstory, about Jenna and her sudden windfall, is given to you on a plate. In the second chapter, in fact. I thought that there would be a lot more to unravel with her, but she’s an open book. I was expecting to have to work way harder to find out why she was so torn up about the cause of Jenna’s death.

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Harper – For a main character, she was pretty nice. Sometimes, it’s the minor characters that you get on better with, but I felt a lot of sympathy for Harper, and would have made the exact same decisions in relation to Kirsty if I’d have been in her position. Watching her fall out with her friends over a new friendship was really sad, with emphasis on the real. We might be in a crumbling castle, but it’s still high school, after all.

Rowan – Harper’s queer best friend and room mate, she added some very vocal diversity to the group. Occasionally, she’d walk the line of cliched gay sidekick, but more often than not, she’d be the one encouraging the girls to have fun together, and always had Harper’s back. Even when she was in a mood.

The other two friends were…forgettable. One of them was engaging in a student-teacher style relationship, so I mostly ignored her, and the other was just the school gossip. They made the campfire-secret-sharing scenes more dynamic, but in the end, they weren’t the ones I was most interested in, or the one’s in the spotlight.

Kirsty – She was the weirdest to get a handle on. I guess that’s the point of her whole character, that we don’t know where she’s come from and what she’s hiding, but by the end I was expecting some Pretty Little Liars type of showdown. There were guns for clay pigeon shooting, a dark hole in the castle, potential for social manipulation. When the truth was revealed, I thought Kirsty would be more of an A that a C-

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Something was done right in the book, though, when Bee and I both sat down to read it in one sitting. I think that was mainly because we were constantly waiting for something terrible to happen, and when it didn’t, it was like holding in a sneeze. But, the emotions were raw, the teenage girl friendships believable, and the ending was satisfying…kind of. Overall, we’d give it 3.5 stars, and would definitely recommend it if you’re looking to read more thrillers, or start reading books by Cat Clarke!

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Do you have a favourite setting in books? Are you a fan of teen thrillers? 

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