Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Opening sentence: “Have you ever dreamt of a place far, far away? I have.”
Wow. That’s pretty much my review of this book! But, as that’s not very descriptive, I’ll continue. As equally compelling as it is unsettling, this is the story of 15-year old Milly, formally known as Annie. Her identity was changed for her safety after she turned her mother into the police. Her mother is a serial killer. Her mother killed children.
Yep, it’s not a light read, but it is exceptionally written. Ali Land has an interesting, staccato feel to her writing style that perfectly captures the thought process of a disturbed 15-year old girl. Milly was psychologically and physically abused for years. Made to watch her mother’s gruesome acts, she was finally pushed over the edge when she knew her mother’s last victim. After turning her mother in, she is placed in the care of a foster family: Mike, Saskia and their daughter Phoebe, who is the same age as Milly. As Milly prepares for her mother’s trial, with the help of Mike, a psychologist, she also has to contend with Phoebe, who does not know about her past as Annie, but still takes an instant dislike to her and leads the bullying against Milly at school. These are also harsh sections of the book to read, Ali Land really captures the cruelness of teenagers when they’re faced with a mix of hormones and the unknown and is superb at building up tension and intrigue pretty much constantly throughout, in all the narrative threads. Another example of this is that it is not until about a quarter of the way into the book that we are given more facts and details about Milly’s mother’s story, up until then it’s tantalising (and troubling) snippets about what’s happened to Milly over the years.
As a lead character, Milly is so complex and multi-layered. She hates and loves her mother in equal measures and it is this internal conflict that she constantly struggles with. You cannot second guess her and despite the story being told from her point of view, she still manages to sneak surprises on you. Just how much of her twisted mother is in her? Will she ever really be able to recover from such an extreme upbringing?
Interestingly, Ali Land was a children’s mental health nurse for ten years prior to writing this (her debut) novel. She used her experience and first hand knowledge to really craft an exceptional story and, in her words (from this interview), she wanted this book to: ‘provoke discussion around how to care for children who had been damaged by their pasts.’ There was a line in the book that really summed up this idea and the overall narrative theme that is explored: ‘More disturbing than hurt is love when it’s wrong.’
Good Me Bad Me is my definition of a page-turner. I read it so quickly, as it was simply impossible not to. I eagerly await Ali Land’s next book and this is definitely one to add to your Christmas list.