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Book Review: The Bad Ones by Melissa Albert

Book Review: The Bad Ones by Melissa Albert

Weaving the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl with a town full of dark secrets and a decades old game steeped in the supernatural, Melissa Albert’s The Bad Ones is a YA thriller with more than a few eerie twists up its sleeve. It opens with a sequence of strange vanishings. A girl disappears from a sleepover, a teacher disappears from his car, a boy disappears from a graveyard. Then there’s the sudden vanishing of Nora’s estranged best friend Becca, who sent an out-of-the-blue text message and then disappeared along with the rest of them. As word of the four missing people spreads through town, Nora sets out to unravel the mystery and uncover the tragic past events that set everything in motion.

Nora and Becca might not have spoken much in the last few months – a slow disintegrating of friendship, rather than one single explosive moment – but Nora knows her best friend as well as she knows herself. Something had shifted in Becca long before she went missing and when Nora discovers a string of coded messages that only she would understand, she’s certain that Becca is trying to tell her something. The cryptic clues point to another tragedy thirty years prior and a sinister urban legend that the two friends know only too well: the goddess game. What the girls thought was a seemingly harmless childhood game might just be the key to the disappearances. But to stop more people from going missing, Nora will have to delve into the game’s ominous supernatural origins, bringing her ever closer to the dark forces at work in her town.

…I opened the locker just long enough to slide the knife and photograph into my bag. Here was my first hard proof that Becca’s departure Saturday night wasn’t an impulsive act or a temporary flight or, god forbid, an abduction. She’d known since last week at least that she wasn’t coming back Monday morning.

The Bad Ones was published last month but it has all the hallmarks of a spooky season read: unexplained disappearances, a secretive small-town mindset and a sinister supernatural threat that will give you more chills than the wintry backdrop. The story is predominantly told from Nora’s perspective, occasionally interspersed with brief chapters seen through Becca’s eyes in the lead-up to the night she went missing. The singular focus on Nora and her deep-rooted connection to both Becca and the fictional-not-fictional goddess at the heart of their game gives the book an intimate feel. It’s driven by one girl’s love for another – both now and in the past – and that unique, sometimes toxic bond between female friends.

As with many stories steeped in secrets, prejudice and grief-driven vengeance, the most important answers aren’t found in the present. The slow-burn mystery winds like a road through the book, twisting and turning as Nora enlists the help of her school newspaper friends to unfurl the layers of the town’s string of historic disappearances and deaths. There are whispers of the occult throughout, made all the more real by Albert’s potent and lyrical writing, but the creepiness really shifts gear towards the end, when those whispers become a horrifying reality. Thankfully there’s a touch of sweet romance to keep the shadows at bay, but it’s secondary to the supernatural puzzle that Nora has to piece together.

Melissa Albert’s Our Crooked Hearts set the bar for creepy vibes and this book continues that unnerving atmosphere, adding in a House of Hollow urban legend mystery and a Pretty Little Liars-style trail of school-centred secrets. It’s utterly gripping and wonderfully dark with a solid emotional heart. Perfect for these dark winter days when you want to curl up with something haunting and immersive.


The Bad Ones was published by Penguin on 22 February 2024

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