Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.
Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.
It’s a terrible story, and one way to tell it is this: two girls in love and a fog of wasps cursed the place forever after.
Plain Bad Heroines is over 600 pages and there is so much going on in this story that it is a difficult book to even know how to review. I read Emily M. Danforth’s debut novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and thought it was incredible, but somehow Plain Bad Heroines has managed to surprass it. Other than the fact that both books are sapphic and brilliantly written, they have very little in common. Danforth’s range is mindboggling and I am in awe of her ability to create characters who feel so authentic.
The story is told in two timelines and there are a lot of characters. The present day timelime even has actors who are playing the characters in the past timeline, so things can really get confusing. I highly suggest creating a character map if you are going to pick this book up (and I think you should)!
While I wouldn’t classify this book as true dark academia, it definitely has elements of that genre. I know that many of us are fans of dark academia, but it is such a niche genre that it can be difficult to find books to read. The past timeline definitely gave me those vibes and I loved every second of it.
There was something so satisfying about how everything came together. Also, I will never look at wasp the same way.
The audiobook was fantastic, but I would love to own a physical copy. I have heard that there are illustrations that add to the creepiness of the story.
Plain Bad Heroines was nominated for Best Horror in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I read and loved five books in that category, but Plain Bad Heroines ultimately got my vote.
- Characters: 10
- Atmosphere/Setting: 9
- Writing Style: 9
- Plot: 8
- Intrigue: 9
- Logic/Relationships: 9
- Enjoyment: 9
Overall CAWPILE score: 63/7=9