The Bad Ones by Melissa Albert
Published: February 20th 2024 by Penguin/Flatiron
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Genres: Young Adult // Horror, Thriller, Supernatural
Quick Thoughts: Deliciously wicked from start to finish. Set in unsettling suburbia made the story atmospherically absorbing, compelling my attention throughout, and the nightmarish rhymes made my skin crawl with simultaneous dread and attentiveness.
I was gifted this book via the Publisher. There was no obligation to post/give this book a certain rating. I remain entirely impartial.
Trigger/Content Warning: this review contains elements of grief, death, supernatural elements and mild, non-spoiler plot points.
About This Book:
House of Hollow meets A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, THE BAD ONES is a page-turning supernatural thriller about four mysterious disappearances in a town haunted by a sinister magical history – and one girl searching for the truth.
A GAME GONE WRONG. A MISSING FRIEND. A TOWN OF BURIED SECRETS . . .
Goddess, Goddess, count to five. In the morning, who’s alive?
One town. One night. Four people gone. Nora’s best friend, Becca, is one of the lost. As Nora tries to piece together the truth, she uncovers dark events in her high school’s history and a string of coded messages Becca has left for her. These clues point to another missing girl thirty years previously and a sinister urban a goddess figure, who played an eerie role in Nora and Becca’s own childhood games . . . As Nora struggles to unravel the mystery, it’s clear there are dark forces at work in her town – and they’re willing to stop at nothing to keep their secrets buried deep.
The last time I read one of Melissa’s books was during the only time I’ve ever caught Covid, back in 2022. I remember reading Our Crooked Hearts cooped up in bed, the story taking me away somewhere different than reality. And with The Bad Ones, I knew that Melissa’s way of capturing my attention would make this an unputdownable read.
Our story begins one cold and dark winters night, transporting the reader through a judging lens that takes us from a sleepover to a car drenched in darkness, to a cemetery and snow covered driveway, to just the beginning of four peoples disappearances from small-town Palmetto. Nothing really happens there out of the ordinary, at least not until they went missing. One of the missing, Becca, is the best friend of our main character Nora, who finds herself tunnelling to Becca’s house after an out-of-the-blue I love you text when the two best friends had been non-contact for months due to Becca’s flaky on-and-off behaviour that became too dangerous for Nora to accept as normal.
But Nora knows Becca is fragile. Growing up with her, knowing how she lost both her Mom and Dad, makes some of her poor decisions seem reactive, not just strange. And they always had the Goddess game. It was their “thing” as kids. They made shrines, did the playground chants—Goddess Goddess, count to one, who will you pick when the day is done?—and believed in a Goddess that could avenge wrong, who would know they would always choose one another and sacrifice anything for their bond. Only, in the coming days of Becca’s disappearance, Nora begins to see a pattern of things Becca might’ve left her. Messages. And when the threads all lead back to the Goddess game, with a twisted tale that weaves into a very real instance of the Goddess being real, Nora starts to wonder who she can trust in a town full of dark and unimaginable horrors. With time running out and a past to be deciphered, Nora enlists the help of unlikely Palmetto students and friends to uncover the truth of the Goddess game before it’s too late to save Becca—and keep herself from losing time in frequent, unnerving blackouts…
Overall, The Bad Ones was deliciously wicked from start to finish. Set in unsettling suburbia made the story atmospherically absorbing, compelling my attention throughout, and the nightmarish rhymes made my skin crawl with simultaneous dread and attentiveness. Melissa has this flawless way of writing magic realism with supernatural flares that seem so true, so palpable, that I found myself completely charmed by everything The Bad Ones exuded. Reading about this toxic, all-or-nothing friendship made my heart burn with nostalgia for childhood friendships and make-believe games that felt so real at the time, for how loss and grief can change a person and make them persuadable to bad people with bad intentions. Everything about the way Melissa writes is sorcery to me, and I will forever snap up the chance to read anything she writes. It’s going to be hard for another story to beat how I feel about this book in 2024—this is Melissa’s best work yet. You need this book in your life. Truly one of the best supernatural YA books I’ve ever read: five stars!
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