The Girls Are Never Gone by Sarah Glenn Marsh is a YA supernatural horror novel. Its protagonist, Dare, is just beginning her summer internship restoring an old house and recovering from a breakup with her boyfriend. She plans to use the summer to launch a podcast about the house’s history of mysterious drownings. While investigating, she teams up with Quinn, who is possibly haunted and definitely cute. The book shines in its interpersonal and representational qualities, but sadly falls short of the mark as a genre novel.
As far as character writing, this one excels. Dare is openly bisexual and diabetic. Her diabetes clearly impacts her life day to day, and is portrayed as a challenge but not an impediment. Her relationship with Quinn, meanwhile, is mostly cute and genuine, with the two sharing sweet moments. Occasionally, conflicts between them would feel stale and forced, but that plays more into plotting issues discussed later.
It’s not only the central romance that was sweet. Dare and Quinn intern alongside Holly. Although the girls don’t always agree, they develop a nice friendship. In her investigation, Dare meets an older woman who casually mentions a wife and child, adding to a sense of queer normativity. Most of the characters in the book are women: protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters. It offers the book a sort of cozy feminism. Women can indeed be heroes and love interests, but they can also just exist on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, as a genre read, this one fell flat for me. For one thing, there were way too many past characters. It might have worked better if I’d read it as a print novel instead of listening to the audiobook, maybe seen pictures or something similar to develop them. Instead, it was a litany of dead and missing girls without much context to any of them, and I had a difficult time keeping track of which one did what when.
Also, for a spooky story, it wasn’t that spooky. This is partly because Dare is a skeptic—which is a fine trait to have, until it leads to a character who spends two-thirds of the book oblivious to something readers know from the summary. To me, it felt like nothing was happening because the main character actively ignored the plot, making for a frustrating and sometimes plodding read. At times the story even seemed to cut away from the most dramatic moments. I’m not a big fan of romance as a primary genre, so this made for a less-than-stellar reading experience for me.
Trigger warnings: murder, supernatural
Lack-of-trigger warning: nothing bad happens to the dog 🙂