Ten years after April’s murder, her killer dies in prison, still proclaiming his innocence. Hannah, April’s then-roommate and friend, is left uneasy. It was her evidence that put John Neville away, after all, and if he wasn’t really guilty, then she’s responsible for his false imprisonment – plus, it would mean April’s real killer is still out there.
I’m going to split this review into what I did and didn’t like, starting with the negatives.
The not-so-good: Once again, this thriller was filled with a lot of tired tropes, mostly around April herself. April is the quintessential it girl, as the title suggests. She’s wealthy, talented, smart, charming, and utterly repugnant. I don’t understand characters like this, or more accurately, I don’t understand what about them draws other people to them. In real life, everyone would have hated this girl. She’s mean, ruthless, unapologetic, backstabbing, self-serving, and whiny. There’s not a single redeeming quality about her. “Rich” and “pretty” and “smart” aren’t redeeming qualities. And yeah, people flock to those sorts of folks in real life, but only to get what they can from them, or to bask in reflected glory. No one actually thinks that they’re friends.
But in fiction – especially thrillers – this happens all the time. No matter how often people are dumped on by the it girl, they keep claiming that she’s such a good person with a good heart. Same here. Hannah doesn’t even seem to like April, yet continues to claim that they’re best friends even ten years after April’s death. It’s ridiculous.
Beyond that, the whodunnit portion was extremely predictable, the police were incompetent to a point of disbelief in their investigation, and the killer’s supposed motives were less than compelling. Thriller/mystery-wise, this wasn’t very good.
The good part: Having said all that, I actually think I’m swayed into liking the book more than disliking it because the thriller/mystery portion was almost superfluous. This felt more like a book about a specific important issue, with the plot built up around said issue in order to address it in a non-threatening way. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but my take on The It Girl was that it was a good about power dynamics between men and women, and the way women are gaslit by society. It’s a statement on not-all-men and on rape culture and the way women are dismissed when they report threats. Not to mention the way that they dismiss threats themselves because they’ve been taught that their instincts can’t be trusted.
Regardless of whether John Neville killed April, he was a big ol’ creepo. His behavior was very much not okay, and yet it’s dismissed as harmless, old-fashioned, or even helpful. For example, at one point he takes a package up to Hannah’s dorm room and enters the room when no one is home, without permission. He claims that he was simply being helpful because the package didn’t fit in her mailbox, but he literally broke into her room when she wasn’t home. Then got mad at her and called her ungrateful when she was upset that he did this. This sort of behavior, which begins with escorting Hannah to places on campus even when she doesn’t want him to, and escalates from there, so obviously crosses a line when viewed from a distance. However, Hannah keeps second-guessing herself about the thing Neville says and does, and his motives. She won’t report him, and the one time she tries, her fears are almost outright dismissed by administrators.
Of course, John Neville isn’t the only flavor of creepo in this book. On the flip side, you also have the advisor who holds exclusive parties for “select students” aka mostly pretty women with only enough guys to claim this isn’t what he’s doing. Everyone finds Neville a bit weird and creepy, but most find the advisor smart, charming, affable, and harmless. I can’t imagine just how many undergrads he managed to sleep with over his years.
Those are the things that made this book for me, those dynamics, those thematic elements. Reading for thriller alone? Not worth it. Reading for some depth, and this has plenty to find.