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REVIEW: The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

Dear Ms. Fredericks,

I was in the mood for something different when I ran across your novel. A reader can take only so many paranormal and dystopian YAs before she loses it. A YA mystery/thriller sounded right up my alley. Your novel delivered what I needed, along with something more.

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Rain was once best friends with Wendy Geller. Both outsiders at their exclusive high school — Rain, because of a cleft palate that left her speech imperfect and Wendy, because she came a less privileged background — the two bonded immediately. Rain was shy and quiet; Wendy was outgoing and took no crap. But they drifted apart over the years as Rain remained shy and quiet while Wendy became a bonafide party girl with a penchant for messing with other people’s boyfriends.

Then the worst happens. Wendy doesn’t return home one night after a party. When her body is found in Central Park the next day, people shake their head and hold her up as a cautionary tale. Look what happens to party girls. Never go home drunk or high. Don’t walk through a park alone at night.

But Rain thinks differently. She was at that party. She talked to Wendy. She didn’t seem drunk and she didn’t seem high. Something doesn’t add up. Everyone assumes it was a random attack, but Rain fears the murderer might be closer than everyone thinks.

I enjoyed this book. It was a fast read, not just because of the short length but also because of the way it was structured. Rain made a wonderful narrator. She’s never been able to speak up for herself. But now that Wendy’s dead and no one can speak for her, she takes it upon herself to do just that in order to find her friend’s killer.

I also liked the look into Wendy. Her character is one that’s often vilified in fiction and in real life. The book pulls no punches and makes it clear that Wendy liked to mess with other girls’ boyfriends, usually in retaliation for the way those specific girls treated her. But there are two details everyone forgets. First, the cheating boyfriend also holds some responsibility; just because a girl goes after you doesn’t mean you have to take her up on it. And secondly, for all that Wendy is treated like crap and gossiped about, she’s still accepted into their social circle because she entertains them. Everyone was always looking forward to seeing what she would do next. In fact, many of them egged her on in her antics and boyfriend-stealing ways. That’s hypocritical.

The incorporation of Facebook was also well done. You always hear the warnings about social media and not putting too much online. You never know the impression you’ll leave. Often this is in the context of seeking employment. If employers are checking up on you, you probably don’t want to make those photos of you doing body shots in Aruba public for anyone to see. But the aftermath of Wendy’s murder shows how else putting up photos, status updates, and videos can leave an impression. With those things used as evidence, Wendy would obviously look like a party girl of the worst kind. And if no one speaks up for her, that’s the image everyone will be left with.

I also liked the commentary about the media and how it’s a feeding frenzy when it comes to cases like this. They swarm the school after Wendy’s death. They comb over the relevant Facebook accounts and exploit everything there to put together the story they want to tell. After all, with the victim dead, who’s going to gainsay them? I liked how all those things came together.

The true identity of Wendy’s murderer really took me off-guard. Looking back, I should have predicted it. I knew the person who eventually does get accused of it was too obvious a choice, but I never even considered the possibility of the real killer. Perhaps because the thought is just too horrible in many ways.

Rain’s emotional struggle throughout the novel — her guilt, her anger — really pulled the story together for me. I liked the exploration of how the faces we present to other people don’t necessarily capture the entirety of us. In fact, one person may see a different face than another. Yes, Wendy was a party girl and it’s easy to paint her in a completely negative light. But people are more complicated than that, and I thought this novel did an excellent job showing that. B-

My regards,
Jia

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at jia@dearauthor.com!

14 Comments

  1. carmen webster buxton
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 14:52:55

    Boy, you guys are tough graders! After such a glowing review, I expected at least an A- or at least a B+!

    carmen

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  2. tellulahdarling
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:22:46

    I’m really curious to read this book. There is an ongoing case where I live, where some horrible things allegedly happened at a party and lots of photos were put online. The Internet allows for many wonderful things – too bad it also allows for anonymous malice and feeding frenzies.

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  3. Kay
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:31:11

    After reading this review, I got the book; while in retrospect I’m not sure that police procedure (for example) works quite that way, while reading I really bought into the story and found it emotionally engaging. The review does a wonderful job of bringing out the book’s strong points. (I did twig on the killer early on, though I warily tracked other options.) It felt as though the story was written with sympathy for the older generations as well as Rain and her classmates.

    @carmen webster buxton: it’s a good YA, an unusual YA, but I wouldn’t call it romance. Perhaps that played a part?

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  4. Luce
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:58:46

    I have to say that this review has totally piqued my interest about this book. The way you touched upon how everyone shows different facets of their personality depending on who they’re interacting with rang very true.

    Like you, I’m somewhat tired of certain YA tropes. The premise of this book sounds original enough to keep me reading to the very end. I’ll most definitely treat myself and buy this in ebook format. :)

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  5. Susan
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 20:05:24

    @carmen webster buxton: I agree! These DA reviewers are a tough crowd. I went back to re-read the review to see where the book fell short, but didn’t find it. It’s a strong write-up and I think I may have to try this one.

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  6. dri
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 23:06:57

    Wow. This sounds thoroughly intriguing. I’m always interested in how fiction incorporates social media and yeah, this is totally going on my TBR list.

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  7. Mohini
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 03:47:55

    I want to ask the same question everyone else did. Would you mind saying where the book fell short?
    Book sounds interesting if only because it doesn’t rely on cliche, 1-D characters.

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  8. Jia
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 06:13:10

    The main reason? While the book is technically good and put together and structured very nicely, it lacks that undefinable oomph that pushes it into great. It’s a good book. It’s a worthwhile read. But it’s not one that makes me grab people by the throat and shake them until they go out and get it. So that puts it into B territory for me. (And to be fair, I’ve only given out a handful of A grades in all the years I’ve reviewed for DA. I don’t hand those out lightly. I’m pretty sure I can count them on my fingers and still have fingers left over.)

    As for the minus part, this ventures into spoiler territory but there’s a certain relationship between Rain and another party who’s “helping” her that I just didn’t buy. Or rather, there’s a development towards the end in terms of her feelings that made me wonder as to where it was coming from. Actually, I’d say that while Rain’s emotional journey was well done, her emotional connection with people other than Wendy fell a little short. Those relationships were more superficial than not.

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  9. carmen webster buxton
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 06:42:20

    @Kay: maybe. but from Jia’s response, it sounds like it was more that she didn’t want to mention the plot weakness because it was a spoiler. But it sounds like this review persuaded a lot of folks to read the book. I certainly would not mind a B- review with this text! In fact I think it’s much better for the author when a reviewer says good DETAILED things they liked and gives fewer stars than when they give four or five stars and say nothing except “great read” or something like that.

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  10. Jia
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 09:02:56

    @carmen webster buxton: If there’s someone who won’t downgrade a book for lack of romance, especially if it’s not a romance to begin with, it’s me. :)

    If it is a romance though, that’s another matter entirely. Though I have given split grades before (where I graded the romance separately from the book as a whole). It depends. Every reviewer is different, even on here on DA. I personally don’t like assigning grades (I prefer writing up reviews like this and letting them stand on their own) but people find them useful for at-a-glance type things.

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  11. Mohini
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 09:16:44

    @Jia:
    Thanks! I understand what you mean by oomph, I think I’ll try it still.

    ReplyReply

  12. AnimeJune
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 20:11:07

    Great review – I’ve been getting more into YA and Lauren Myracle’s SHINE blew me away, so another YA mystery with a misunderstood heroine sounds right up my alley!

    ReplyReply

  13. Jinni
    May 07, 2012 @ 19:17:24

    Got the book after reading your review, and just finished it this morning. A strong YA read, although I do agree with Jia’s comments regarding the superficiality of the relationships with all other than the dead girl.

    ReplyReply

  14. What Jia Read in March and April
    May 11, 2012 @ 12:01:34

    [...] The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks. A YA mystery thriller about a girl looking into the death of her former best friend. Nice interweaving of social media and outward appearances versus secret lives. Full review here. [...]

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