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Review: Bad Graces - Kyrie McCauley

Genre: Young Adult Horror

Published: Katherine Tegen Press, June 2024

My Rating: 4/5 stars

"I think that’s the wrong question, Liv. (…) The question is; can people stay the same?” she tells me. “We’re all just animals, we’re all growing, learning, adapting to our environment. I don’t think we can help it. We evolve…”

I was fully prepared to raise all my hackles in skepticism at the comps of “Yellow Jackets meets House of Hollow”. Because: of course, let’s throw in 2 of the most beloved “wilderness-set-female-lead-things we can think of, just so our book will sell, right? Let me tell you: this time, the comparison held up. In fact, I’ll do you one better: Bad Graces to me, was Yellow Jackets meets Wilder Girls, flirting with The Tempest all the way through…

The Story:

When their yacht is shipwrecked near a mysterious island off the coast of North America, a group of 5 teenage girls is thrown together into a desperate survival situation. Faced with not only the threat of the elements, but a mysterious predator lurking in the dense forests around the beach, and a strange affliction causing changes to their very own bodies, the girls must rely on each other and their own strength, in order to survive.

What I loved:

The comparison to Wilder Girls was deliberate, as Bad Graces has all the same elements I enjoyed in that book too: a survival story with an all-female cast filled with strong characters and great friendships. The “women-supporting-women”-vibes don’t get much stronger than this, and I’m all here for it. Another similar element is the exploration of trauma and it manifesting through physical changes in the girls, which happens to be another trope I love. Although I felt Wilder Girls does it a little better, I really liked the inclusion of the islands “transformations” inflicted on the girls, and their reluctant acceptance and embrace of these changes. It’s a powerful metaphor which works wonderfully as such.

It’s probably a strange compliment to give to an author, but McCauley knows how to write trauma and survival like few other YA-authors. She proved that for me in If These Wings Could Fly and All the Dead Lie Down, and affirms it here. Her characters have experienced things, but rather than gratuitously exploiting the thing itself, we see how it’s scarred the characters, and how these scars have subsequently healed over; rough and callous and sometimes less than pretty, but strong and functional.

The story itself takes a while to get started. Frankly; the first 20% or so almost felt like a different novel entirely. Once we arrive on the island however, I couldn’t put it down: atmosphere, setting, mystery and character-development all worked together to make this a gripping read.

What I didn’t love:

This book is marked clearly as YA, and so I feel a little bad for criticizing it for doing typical “YA-things”. Still, some of it was like nails on a chalkboard to me, so I’m going to mention it. I named the female friendship as a strong point, but the quick development of it (especially the way a “regular girl with a bad past” is seamlessly integrated into a clique of celebrities) feels unrealistic. The same goes for the insta-love romance, which progresses to soul-mate-level declarations in a matter of days. For the love of God, I understand that trauma-bonding is a thing, but let’s not romanticize it for the teens please…

My dislike for the main romance wasn’t helped by how insufferable I found the love-interest. Without spoilers; picture the most bratty, pretentious English Rose, who looks like a pixie but insists she isn’t cute (*stomps little foot adorably…) and quotes Shakespear unironically… It’s a no for me, sir… It didn’t help that the audio-narrator did this over-the-top posh-English-accent for her lines, and took on a strange husky voice. It was clearly going for mysterious, but landed in cringy…

Also, targeting a teen-audience doesn’t mean throwing all subtlety out the window. Teens get context and subtext; we don’t need lines like “we’ve all been teenage girls, so we know what it’s like to be prey” to be spelled out literally. That was all perfectly clear from the cast’s individual backstories. Trust your audience to have a brain and use it to piece your message together themselves.

Fans of Wilder Girls, or a good female-lead YA-survival horror novel in general: don’t sleep on this one. Despite its flaws I had a perfectly enjoyable time with it.

You can find this book here on Goodreads.


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