While this clandestine mission unfurls, the relationship between the two women morphs to take a more intimate form, and spiky ethical questions emerge from Agatha blurring the lines between personal and professional.
Millie’s behaviour is also called into question. After all, she’s accepting money from Agatha, and also received $20 from Tyler to sort out a tricky situation in the dorm.
So far, so juicy: after all, the interior lives of young women, and campus novels, are hot stuff in the literary world. Conversations between classmates have the potential to reveal subtle truths about class and power; see Elif Batuman’s The Idiot and Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends for exemplary titles. However, it can also be done poorly; see Kira McPherson’s Higher Education and this book.
Reid’s issue is that she is so caught up in the minutiae of interpersonal interactions and bizarrely specific details that she neglects plot and character development. Like Agatha’s columns for TeenVogue, which all chronicle the young women’s relationships with money, the novel is rife with gossip but seems unsure of its central goal.
It continually circles the theme of financial privilege, and gets close to acknowledging the intersection with race (particularly given that Agatha, and most of the students involved, are white), but never quite gets there, at least not in any satisfying manner.
Reid’s prose style remains baffling, from a description of a love interest who smells “wonderful, like deodorant and stadium seating” to a rather lengthy comparison of a woman’s face and a backpack.
Music cements mood and place, but those sketches are odd, too: “An Aerosmith song came on from the overhead speakers, the one where he doesn’t want to miss a thing,” she writes at one point; at another, “a song she liked was playing … the one that goes Last Christmas, I gave you my heart.” It’s amateurish, laughable writing that adds very little to the narrative.
Infractions and betrayals between the students make up the bulk of the book, from dorm pranks to interpersonal drama, but all seem to taper off as quickly as they arrive. Kennedy’s mysterious back story, and obsession with Agatha’s book, Satellite Grief , takes far too long to be revealed, and fails to make the impact that it seems to think it has. An interaction between the two has the potential to be interesting, but again fizzles.
The bloodthirsty climax of the novel aims for Heathers but lands somewhere around the recent musical remake of Mean Girls: tepid, toothless and rehashing well-trodden territory. It, too, dissolves into a strangely flat ending. Reid offers a lot of chatter, both in conversations and within each character’s individual thoughts, but still manages to say remarkably little.