Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Feels like: A really fun episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder, but less real life murder and more slumber party murder. 

Song pairing: “Caskets” by Party Favor & NJOMZA

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“Anyhow,” Janelle said, “they said the spirits of these Indians haunt the woods, ready to kill any white man they see. So watch your back, Rodney.”

“Why me?”

“Because Craig is too strong to be defeated by a ghost, Indian or otherwise,” Quincy said.

“What about you?”

“I said the white MAN killed them, “ Janelle said. “We’re women. They’ve got no beef with us.”

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Thus begins the best teen creep thriller I’ve read since Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine stopped being “age appropriate” for me. I am so happy this book exists, for those of us who never really grew out of the comforting page-turners of 1990’s pulp fiction.

When Stephen King gives his kiss of approval to a novel, it’s going to be a smashing success regardless of substance. It’s not real credibility, but a great hype tactic, and boy was this book hyped. Riley Sager’s Final Girls suffers from the double sword of that over-saturation. Everyone knew about it before it hit, which made expectations insanely high. So high that even if this book was The Shining reborn, people would have reviewed it with dismay, “it just didn’t meet up to my expectations. These characters felt so one dimensional, and that blood elevator was so juvenile.”

No, it’s not the next solemn addition to the great American literary canon, but it’s sure fun as hell. I loved this book. There were genuine twists I actually didn’t guess along the way, which is all an avid reader can hope for.

Synopsis: Quincy Carpenter is the only survivor of a horrifying homicidal birthday party at a cabin in the woods. After fleeing from the scene and being rescued by a handsome cop, she becomes a “Final Girl”, an internet term for the last female in a massacre to survive, popularized by 1990’s horror movies. There are two other Final Girls who have survived their own nights of horror: Lisa Milner, the eldest Final Girl who wrote a book about her brush with death at the sorority house, and Samantha Boyd, who vanished from the limelight after surviving a motel murderer. Quincy thinks she has it altogether, but when Lisa Milner turns up dead and Samantha Boyd shows up on her doorstep, the “normal” world she’s built for herself begins to collapse around her.

The red herrings in this book are on point. I was convinced of about three different scenarios, three entirely different perpetrators, and none of them panned out. There are multiple flashbacks to the cabin on the night of Quincy’s brush with death that are short snippets of kitschy goodness–retrofitted with teens drinking, frivolous dancing, betrayal sex, and really great Buffy-esque one-liners. Yes, a lot of Quincy’s quirks don’t hit the mark–she has a PTSD obsession with stealing shiny things and collecting them in a locked drawer, only to pull them out and review her reflection. It’s so she can tell she still exists–a super flimsy example to prove she’s damaged that falls really flat.

Sure, Sam Boyd wears band shirts and dark lipstick because she’s the bad girl, and Quincy is a successful baking blogger because she’s a broken caricature, and the cops are cookie-cutter and one-dimensional, alright. But isn’t that the best and most comforting part of a slasher? When the teens start drinking and having sex in the abandoned cabin at night, you know they’re about to be murdered. When the female lead dons a virginal white nightgown, you know she’s about to be peer pressured into having sex by her asshole jock boyfriend. These tropes are continuously used because they’re safe, lulling, we know what’s coming, we’re expecting a massacre, a female to root for, and a twist we’re hoping is the one thing we CAN’T predict. I love a good slasher, and I love a good book that gives me exactly what I was promised.

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