My first ‘big’ college reunion will be coming up next year, and it has me thinking about how much I have, or haven’t, changed in the five years since graduation. My school was tucked into a hilltop on Ohio, with its own strange magic. We sang songs and observed silly traditions, we trudged through the snow and lost our jackets in various fraternity lounges, we spent spring finals week furiously studying in the long-awaited sunshine, eating toast spread with Amish jam. But The Girls Are All So Nice Here reminded me that, stuck on an idyllic campus in the middle of nowhere, things can start to get a little tense.
In a clever split-time narrative, we meet our narrator Ambrosia, who arrives at Wesleyan in the early 2000s struggling to fit in, and a decade later, nervously debating whether or not she should attend her 10-year reunion. At the heart of both timelines is Sloane Sullivan, the charismatic and adventurous girl on Amb’s hall who became a bit of a sexual guru to fellow freshmen, and Amb hasn’t spoken to since a disastrous night out. Things come to a head during the reunion weekend, finally uncovering what brought down their toxic friendship and the one girl who tragically got caught in it all.
Flynn captures the early-freshman-year feeling quite well in those chapters involving Amb’s integration into Wesleyan and being pulled in either direction by rebellious Sloan and by her goody-goody roommate Flora. The plotting in these sections is tense and well-done, if a little repetitive. The present-day timeline is a little more scattered, with a weirdly long stretch of time to get to the big reveal, and a lot of puttering around with bored women-in-their-30s plot points (“Do I really want a baby?” et al) that could’ve been jettisoned. But the character of Sloan made it worth it–everyone has known one of those impossibly-cool girls and desperately wanted to be her, even after the cracks start to show. The dynamic between Sloan and Amb was fantastic and would translate very well to the screen if this made it there.
I’m getting a little bored of “dark academia” media and aesthetics–as someone who was on Tumblr in 2012, it feels a touch repetitive–but this was a refreshing twist, maybe perhaps because it focused more on the social side of college and less on the academics themselves. There’s a creepy vibe and hallowed halls, but also a reminder of the grittier aspects of college, cinder-block dorm rooms and foamy beer and the general messiness of figuring out how to exist outside of high school. While The Girls Are All So Nice Here isn’t always a home run, it’s an enjoyable thriller and feels appropriately fitting for these chilly spring nights that remind me of my Kenyon years, not yet sure of what the night might hold.
Thanks to NetGalley and HQ for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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