Title: The Last Good Girl
Author: Allison Leotta
Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Goodreads synopsis: Emily, a freshman at a Michigan university, has gone missing. She was last seen leaving a bar near Sigma Pi, the prestigious and secretive fraternity known on campus as “the rape factory.” The main suspect is Dylan Highsmith, the son of one of the most powerful politicians in the state. But so far the only clues are pieced-together surveillance footage of Emily leaving the bar that night…and Dylan running down the street after her. Anna Curtis is on the case when she discovers the video diary Emily kept over her first few months at college, exposing the history she had with Dylan—and accusing him of rape before she disappeared. Emily’s disappearance gets media attention and support from Title IX activists across the country, but Anna’s investigation hits a wall. Now Anna is looking for something, anything she can use to find Emily alive. But without a body or any physical evidence, she’s under threat from people who tell her to think hard before she ruins the name of an “innocent young man.” Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.
This is not my typical genre, but I got the book from Writers House when I was working there and I needed something to take to the beach last week so I went for it and I am definitely glad that I did. This book tackles an issue that is really important. Statistics on sexual assault on college campuses–and everywhere else, for that matter–are terrifying, and I’d say most colleges don’t handle it well, as we see in The Last Good Girl when the president of Tower University continuously chooses his school’s reputation and funds over the safety and well-being of his own daughter. His daughter’s rapist comes from a wealthy family that is one of the school’s top donors, and I think that makes for an incredible conflict and a plot that really made my stomach flip. I loved how purely hateable the villains in this book are. Many of Dylan’s scenes were so horrific, and Leotta did a great job painting terrifying and disturbing pictures so vivid that I felt like I was there. Which, I’m glad I wasn’t, but it’s still always satisfying to feel like you’re part of a book. On the other side, I could wholeheartedly root for Anna, her team, and all of Dylan’s victims. I think the way that Leotta showcased all the different ways that girls handle sexual assault is really important. There is no typical way to react to something like that. I know girls who have experienced sexual assault and had it ruin their lives, and I know girls who have shown no signs of PTSD afterwards and have been able to bounce back easily, and it has nothing to do with the severity of the crime. It really depends on the individual. I also really liked the varying styles of the book–we get a typical narrative interlaced with transcripts of video diaries that Emily made and various legal documents and emails pertaining to the case. It was a fun way to follow the story and learn new information.
I want to make sure I give a shoutout to Wyatt, who is one of the best characters in this book and has the most significant character arc. He learns the most throughout the story, and it is my hope that readers who aren’t knowledgable on the subject of sexual assault are able to learn alongside him. It was really uplifting to watch his empathy grow and his values change as he witnesses deeply disturbing crimes. Good job, Wyatt, and thank you for setting a good example for young men.
As much as I ultimately loved the premise and thought the characters were very well executed, I did have a few problems with the book. It took me a while to read because it didn’t really start to pick up until a little bit past the middle. I often find myself struggling to get through the first half of a book and racing through the second, so Leotta is not alone in this particular fault. However, I wouldn’t knock off a star just for that. I also felt that the dialogue in the book is rather stiff. Most of the regular dialogue is actually fine, but the language in Emily’s video diaries sounds nothing like real speech–especially speech that a teenage girl would say out loud to herself on camera. In one of the early videos, she describes her therapist as a “pretty psychologist with brown hair and a warm smile.” That would be a nice description, but who would ever say that out loud? It certainly didn’t feel right to me. That’s really what made me drop this book to four stars. Additionally, I feel a little iffy on the subplots with Anna’s various relationships. I definitely wanted to see more between her and her sister Jody. We get little hints that Jody was once arrested, but what exactly happened there was never revealed, which was a bit disappointing.
I was very nervous that the ending was going to let me down, but I felt very satisfied with the big reveal and how the whole case played out. I hadn’t realized this until I looked up the book on Goodreads today, but The Last Good Girl is actually number five in Leotta’s Anna Curtis series. This book can definitely be read as a stand alone novel, but I will be going to the library to look for more Anna Curtis adventures. Anna is a great feminist character, and I’m excited to see her serve some more justice to the world. I really recommend this book to anyone, because I guarantee you know someone who has experienced sexual assault, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, and it’s really important that we as a society learn about it and understand how and why it happens, how to prevent it (e.g., teaching boys to respect women), and how to heal from it and help others heal as well.