Good Me Bad Me

At one point in Ali Land's debut novel, Good Me Bad Me, the narrator, Milly, says her insides look different from everyone else's--"A curious, twisted shape. The shape you made me. The shape I'm learning to live with." The off-stage voice of "you" that twisted and shaped Milly is that of her mother, a serial killer of children.

Milly turned her mother in after the ninth murder--a boy Milly knew. Now she is in foster care with Mike, a psychologist and expert in trauma, and his wife, Saskia, an anorexic alcoholic and pill-popper. Their teenage daughter, Phoebe, Milly soon discovers, is also an expert in trauma, although "more in the causing than the healing." With Mike's help, Milly has a chance to heal, but her mother's voice is in her head.

At school, Milly is an outsider. She speaks "like a robot" and hides her hands because they sometimes shake from permanent damage to her nervous system. When Phoebe and her cohorts push and slap her, Milly thinks, "See me, feel me, but know that I come from a place where this is merely a warm-up.... And I never forget." Milly has a compromised ability to read emotions, but she has no trouble understanding Phoebe and her friends.

With savageries only hinted at, Ali Land coolly ratchets up tension and takes the reader into a damaged mind, exploring the question of nature versus nurture, and the possibility of redemption. Good Me Bad Me is a heartbreaking, breathtaking chill of a book. --Marilyn Dahl

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