Dead End Girls by Wendy Heard

Dead End Girls by Wendy Heard. Little, Brown and Company, 2022. 9780316310413

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: ARC (publication May, 2022)

Genre: Thriller

What did you like about the book?  Maude shuttles between her divorced parents every week: a dad who forgets about her and a mom who uses her as an unpaid babysitter for the twins from her second marriage. Some teens might mope or act out; Maude uses her superior intellect and an upcoming extended family vacation to Hawaii to map out her fake death, with the dream of disappearing into a new life in London. But when her step-cousin Frankie figures out something’s up, she wants in on the scheme. This upends all Maude’s carefully laid plans, pitching the two into an underworld of cheap motels, false passports, shoplifting, and violence. Although Maude initially resents Frankie’s presence, the two begin to navigate a growing attraction. Adding to the suspense is Frankie’s backstory; she’s come to suspect, based on a series of bizarre accidents, that someone is trying to kill her. Maude’s ingenuity was fun to watch; the familiarity of the faked kayak accident, the scavenger hunt for an appropriate driver’s license to swipe, and the costume/hairstyle makeovers won’t diminish readers’ enjoyments of these tropes. Heard skillfully toys with us, ratcheting up the tension as the bodies pile up and the authorities (plus the real murderer) close in on the girls. The queer love story also works metaphorically as the two characters become more comfortable with each other and their authentic selves, discarding “fake” identities for true ones, especially as it becomes apparent that Frankie is truly Frank. All the characters cue as White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Plausibility and character development are not hallmarks of the thriller genre, so teens probably won’t care much that both are pretty thin here. Although Maude and Frankie do have some depth, their dreadful family members are completely flat, almost to the point of imbecility. I also would have liked Heard to commit a bit more deeply to Maude’s darkness. Every now and then, you get a whisper of how she may be just a tiny bit of a sociopath, but then the author pulls back. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  This was a twisty, turny, and fast-paced thriller that will appeal to teen readers.  Kudos for the queer love angle. If you loved Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, with the truly memorable and reprehensible Jule West Williams (an homage to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley), this book would be a milder read alike.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction, probably in mystery if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 24, 2022

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