Quinn Littleton was a mean girl—a skinny blonde social terrorist in stilettos. She was everything Emma MacLaren hated. Until she died.
A proud geek girl, Emma loves her quiet life on the outskirts, playing video games and staying off the radar. When her nightmare of a new stepsister moves into the bedroom next door, her world is turned upside down. Quinn is a queen bee with a nasty streak who destroys anyone who gets in her way. Teachers, football players, her fellow cheerleaders—no one is safe.
Emma wants nothing more than to get this girl out of her life, but when Quinn dies suddenly, Emma realizes there was more to her stepsister than anyone ever realized.
Sympathy for the Bully Dead Little Mean Girl gives us a story about two stepsisters – one a typical mean girl, Quinn, and the other a homely nerd, Emma, with the former having a mean streak a mile wide and a raging desire to ruin the latter’s life. Three-fourths of the novel is about how Quinn makes life miserable for everyone around her, especially Emma – she is the kind of toxic evil that even the Devil would probably come to her for pointers. The book delivers this regular bullying fare with some intermittent slapstick humor in the form of Emma’s narration, but you can’t ignore the impulse to wish Quinn dead. And she does exactly that – die, I mean. And then Emma has a change of heart towards her now dead stepsister.
Look, I get the intention with which the author tried to write this novel (as said in the acknowledgements)- she wanted to show that even mean girls deserve humanity and kindness. But when you have a 200+ page reason for hating Quinn, you can’t resolve that kind of vitriol in the last quarter of the book. Emma’s grief towards the end was begun mainly because she realized she had wrongfully accused her and inadvertently caused her death – and looking back, she realizes she never tried to understand her sister or give her chances. But if you reading this book in a stretch (like I was) you remember with perfect clarity how Emma was kind to her in the beginning of the book, before she realizes the brand of toxic that Quinn was. This wasn’t a simple case of a girl with a bad childhood or daddy issues.
Even if we account for her young age, the fact of the matter is that you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved. (Thank you, The 100 for that gem). Sure, we can feel pity for them, but some people cannot be reformed – maybe they can be tamed at most. Quinn’s bullying wasn’t just petty; she openly sought to destroy lives. If her bullying had caused a death (which she could easily have), this narrative wouldn’t have been about trying to humanize her. Which, I must clarify, the author doesn’t do a good job of, either. What exactly was human about Quinn that she deserved more than the level of kindness that was afforded to her? She wasn’t treated badly by people – on the contrary, people worshiped her despite her nastiness. I also get that teenage girls are demonized more easily than any other, but I can’t put aside her homophobia, racism, fatphobia, bullying and entitlement to justify this brand of white feminism. Worse is the fact that Quinn never faces any consequence for her behaviour.
So, you may wonder what I did like about this book? I liked the writing – the author builds a great narrative about the relationship between Emma and her mothers (I just wish they would have been called bisexual instead of lesbians), the wholesome friendship between Emma and her friends, and the build-up for Quinn. For once, a mean girl wasn’t just a cookie cutter character – she had complexity, which the author was striving for, and achieved. Granted, the last quarter of the book sort of fell apart, but until then a good narrative was being built. The way Shawn consoled Emma at the end, making her understand that it wasn’t her fault – that was a good thing, because I couldn’t take Emma blaming herself for it. It also portrays how death makes a person kinder in some one eyes, but as a person who once stood at a funeral for someone I loathed and tried to shed a tear out of decency, I cannot say I condone the ending of the book. It might bring some peace to others, or inspire to ‘kill it with kindness’ but it just wasn’t doing it for me.
Trigger warning for harmful racism, homophobic slurs and body shaming in the book.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Harlequin Teen, via Netgalley.