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Plain Bad Heroines (2020)

by Emily M. Danforth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1035518,273 (3.53)38
A century after the macabre deaths of several students at a New England girls' boarding school, the release of a sensational book on the school's history inspires a horror film adaptation that renews suspicions of a curse when the cast and crew arrive at the long-abandoned building. 1902, the Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara are obsessed with each other and with Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. The girls establish their own private club and call it the Plain Bad Heroine Society. Their bodies are discovered in a nearby apple orchard, with a copy of Mary's book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. within five years three more people die on the property-- and the Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever. The now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when writer Merritt Emmons publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the "haunted and cursed" Gilded Age institution. Her book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again for filming, soon it's impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins. -- adapted from jacket… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
This book is way longer than it needs to be, and it’s all setup that fails to deliver. Early on the seeds were planted for some seriously creepy gothic chills that never materialized. The mechanics and rationale of the “curse” lacked explanation: why things manifested as they did and who was affected by the curse was muddled or absent. I listened to the audiobook, and I’m not quite sure how the narrator may have affected my opinion of the book. She had a slow, ironic drawl that seemed right in tone, like we’re all in on the same joke, but that maybe kept me from taking the whole thing seriously enough. ( )
  Charon07 | Mar 18, 2024 |
"Plain Bad Heroines" ended up being a bit of a rollercoaster read for me - there were moments where I was deeply intrigued by what was happening, specifically in the past timeline at Brookhants, and then there would be stretches of plot that felt like a chore to get through. It's been awhile since I've read a book that is so interesting but so boring all at the same time.

The main strength of PBH lies in its come-hither promise of a darkly delicious story about a cursed school, queer actors, and a little red book that prompted young women to diverge from the beaten path. Especially in the first 200 pages of the novel Danforth weaves the past and the present so wonderfully, and each timeline hints at all these mysterious going-on's in a very tantalizing way that made me want to keep turning pages.
The characters were ones I never really connected to, but I did root for some of them more than others. Audrey and Alex I heavily empathized with and wanted them to succeed in any way they could. On the other hand, Merritt is one of the most obnoxiously irritating characters to exist and I couldn't stand her. I'm fairly certain she was meant to be unlikable for a portion of the novel, and in that sense she was very well-written, but even to the last page I was annoyed by her. Harper felt very flat and everything she did became repetitive, which in turn made her dull to read. I thought her plot was going to be a bit more flashy yet remained predictable.

Which leads to the weaknesses of the book, namely, failure to deliver on the promise of a terrifying tale. The book sets itself up like chaos and darkness are going to descend in the present plot but instead it all just gets dragged out to the extreme. It's over halfway through the book before the present story finally makes its way to Brookhants, and when we're finally there so little really happens! It's more yellow jackets and angst and malfunctioning film equipment, none of which is actually scary. The past plotline also becomes more difficult to enjoy because it feels very low-stakes, and again, becomes repetitive. We see the same kind of horror (yellow jackets, slimy water, physical injury) over and over and over again and it's simply ineffective.
Finally, the ending: when a book is over 600 pages and keeps making big promises, but delivers a weak, uninspired, and too-many-questions-left-unanswered ending, it's bound to be a little bit of a disappointment. It's not a terrible ending, just a boring one.

TL;DR: Parts of this book are enjoyable, even funny, and the writing is strong, but the plot drags too much and doesn't deliver on the promise of terror - also yellow jackets can only be scary once or twice before it feels like a forced motif being slammed over the readers head. ( )
  deborahee | Feb 23, 2024 |
I adored this book. So many different stories, but I never once felt lost. It all went seamlessly together. What a lyrical, terrifying story. ( )
  ReneeGreen | Jan 17, 2024 |
Spooky multigenerational queer romance? With period piece subplots?! Don’t mind if I do! ( )
  Elianaclaire | Jan 3, 2024 |
[3.75]

I had to sleep on this one before I wrote a review. It's safe to say that I absolutely loved 85% of this book. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I truly loved ALL the characters in both timelines. I loved the sapphic joy (and sapphic longing) and I loved how drenched in tension everything was.

What I didn't love was how most of the storylines wrapped up. It seems almost absurd to say a 600+ page book rushed the ending, but that is truly how it felt. The last 50-60 pages felt like a slightly messy info dump (with time jumps) just to wrap up everything we just spend hundreds of pages building up to.

The publisher probably wouldn't agree, but I would have happily read another 200 pages for this to feel complete. ( )
  sublunarie | Nov 5, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Emily M. Danforthprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lautman, SaraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sands, XeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Surely there must be in a world of manifold beautiful things something among them for me. And always, while I am still young, there is that dim light, the Future. But it is indeed a dim, dim light, and ofttimes there’s a treachery in it.
—MARY MACLANE, The Story of Mary MacLane
To be durable and perfect, to be in fact grown-up, is to be an object, an altar, the figure in a stained-glass window: cherishable stuff. But really, it is so much better to sneeze and feel human.
—TRUMAN CAPOTE, Answered Prayers
Dedication
For Erica, the heroine who has always held my heart
First words
Though I am young and feminine--very feminine--I am not that quaint conceit, a girl: the sort of person that Laura E. Richards writes about, and Nora Perry, and Louisa M. Alcott,--girls with bright eyes, and with charming faces (they always have charming faces), standing with reluctant feet where the brook and river meet,--and all that sort of thing.
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A century after the macabre deaths of several students at a New England girls' boarding school, the release of a sensational book on the school's history inspires a horror film adaptation that renews suspicions of a curse when the cast and crew arrive at the long-abandoned building. 1902, the Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara are obsessed with each other and with Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. The girls establish their own private club and call it the Plain Bad Heroine Society. Their bodies are discovered in a nearby apple orchard, with a copy of Mary's book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. within five years three more people die on the property-- and the Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever. The now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when writer Merritt Emmons publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the "haunted and cursed" Gilded Age institution. Her book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again for filming, soon it's impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins. -- adapted from jacket

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