The It Girl
Grade : A

That first magical year of university, who can forget it? Those glorious days of newfound independence from your family, making friends, spreading your wings, picking up a stalker - oops, that last part isn’t typically on your average student’s agenda. But it is the central point around which Ruth Ware’s The It Girl revolves.

Hannah Jones won the roommate lottery. She had planned to have a single room to herself at Pelham College, Oxford, but winds up in a suite with April Clarke-Cliveden. April is as pretentious and demanding as her name would indicate - she takes the best bedroom, strews designer clothes all over their apartment, plays nasty practical jokes on her friends and essentially steamrolls over the quieter, more studious Hannah. April is also lively, irreverent, funny, generous, brilliant and occasionally warm-hearted. She takes Hannah under her wing and the two become the best of friends. It isn’t long before they’ve become part of an established clique which also includes April’s boyfriend Will, his buddies Hugh and Ryan and the acerbic, direct and intelligent Emily.

Hannah loves pretty much everyone she’s met at Uni except the porter John Neville. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that he is constantly around her - dropping packages off at her rooms when he’s supposed to keep them at the desk, interacting inappropriately with her when she picks up the mail, and following her as she goes around campus in order to “help her find her way.” Hannah’s friends tell her she should file an official complaint, and just as she is working on doing so, the unthinkable happens: April is killed and Hannah sees John Neville fleeing the scene.

Fast forward ten years. Hannah married Will and is currently expecting their their first baby. They moved to Edinburgh, far away from Oxford and all the hoopla that surrounded April’s death and John Neville’s trial and conviction. Most days, the two of them go from hour to hour without ever thinking about what happened in the past. But when John Neville dies in prison, a podcast journalist decides to revisit the whole issue. New evidence comes up, throwing doubt on the conviction. And Hannah finds herself once more forced to revisit the darkest moments in her past.

Ms. Ware does a fabulous job of depicting just what life is like when women find themselves being stalked. Hannah has, like most women, been trained to be kind and nice, and she applies that training when she deals with John Neville, initially excusing his behavior as eccentricity and feeling guilt about her own discomfort. We watch Hannah rearrange her schedule to avoid Neville, all while castigating herself for being silly to do so. She really wrestles with whether to lodge a complaint about his behavior, even while her friends urge her to consider his actions increasingly hostile and inappropriate. The story very much captures how women doubt their own instincts in an effort to do the right thing and shows the reality of women twisting themselves into pretzels to accommodate the behaviors/desires of the men around them.

The author also does a fantastic job of depicting the victim, April, who, on the surface, has everything and looks Instagram perfect. Rather than a one-dimensional nice girl or bad girl, we find ourselves faced with a young woman who is a mix of both, a typical human with flaws but also good points who can be equal parts kind and cruel, selfish and generous. April’s characterization demands that we contemplate how we often look at victims and force them to fit into molds that help us determine whether they did or did not, in a sense, deserve what happened to them. April defies those conventions and forces us to see a fully fleshed-out person whose worth comes from being human, not from being a good girl worthy of society’s adulation and protection. I loved that she isn’t perfect but is loved and left plenty of grieving people behind.

The mystery here is solved by an amateur bumbling about and asking all the wrong questions and not coming to the right conclusions until she is in danger. While I liked Hannah and appreciated her loyalty to her friend, I’ll admit at times I got a wee bit frustrated with her. At the start of the novel, she’s a very organized, somewhat thoughtful student but as the story progresses, she seems to be someone who simply plunges heedlessly forward without contemplating the results of what she is doing. She’s a relatable and engaging protagonist but if you are a purist who likes solid detective work in the solving of a mystery, she may irritate you a tad. While the tale has the dark, edgy undertone of a thriller, Hannah is a heroine more typical of a cozy than a suspense novel. That unlikely combination appealed to me because of the pacing and the motivating factors within the plot. It’s clear that Hannah carries a lot of guilt over John Neville’s imprisonment and also questions her role in April’s death a great deal. That emotion makes it seem natural that she would want to reaffirm she’d done the right thing with her testimony against John and reassure herself she hadn’t somehow allowed her prejudice against him to taint what she said about him. The fact that she is working off instinct rather than actual facts/clues makes it natural that she would investigate rather than simply going to the police.

The It Girl is a nuanced, intelligent mystery that is a beautiful showcase for Ware’s masterful storytelling. I thoroughly enjoyed it and believe other fans of mysteries will as well.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : A
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : July 12, 2022

Publication Date: 07/2022

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Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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