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Book Review: Where Sleeping Girls Lie by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Book Review: Where Sleeping Girls Lie by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Packed with twists, turns and an ever-present unsettling undertone, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé‘s second novel Where Sleeping Girls Lie is a compelling mystery thriller with a dark academia twist that deserves readers’ attention. This is a powerful, unflinching read, and it’s one that weaves a lot of important, urgent issues in amongst the dark secrets and mysteries too. From the early chapters, all of this comes together to craft a story of high suspense and tension, and there’s no denying that this is novel that will hook you in and keep you reading, even as it fills you with an entirely justified sense of rage and horror too.

After years of being home-schooled, Sade Hussein isn’t sure what to expect when she starts her third year of high school at the prestigious Alfred Nobel Academy boarding school, but it definitely isn’t for her roommate Elizabeth to disappear after her first night. As rumours about Elizabeth’s disappearance begin to swirl around the school, all eyes turn to Sade as both her roommate and the newcomer. It’s not long before Sade finds herself catching the attention of some of the best, brightest and wealthiest students in the school, including the three most popular girls in school, collectively known as the ‘Unholy Trinity’.

Between getting to know her new classmates, playing catch-up at school and trying to find out what happened to Elizabeth, Sade is soon drawn deeper into the dynamics of her new school and she learns that there’s more to Alfred Nobel Academy and its students than she first thought. While she may have started out with the aim of investigating Elizabeth’s disappearance, Sade quickly comes to realise that dark and dangerous secrets lurk around every corner in the school she is now calling home – secrets that could even rival some of Sade’s own.

She felt like there were eyes in the walls. Watching her every move. Waiting to see what she did next.”

Before Where Sleeping Girls Lie, Àbíké-Íyímídé captured the attention of millions with her debut Ace of Spades, and among the very many important notes to take away from that novel is the undeniable fact that Àbíké-Íyímídé’s stories thrive in a dark academia setting. As with her first novel, Àbíké-Íyímídé once again takes a familiar school setting and unravels it to expose some of the great injustices lurking not-very-far beneath the surface. Here, the author touches upon a wealth of topics that are both hard-hitting and horrifyingly prevalent in schools everywhere, from classism, power and privilege to misogyny, toxic masculinity, rape culture and more that are covered in the book’s content warnings, something that should definitely be read and considered before picking this novel up.

Sade enters this environment as a keenly observant outsider with a strong idea of justice, but as it becomes clear that Sade is grieving her own family tragedies, keeping her own secrets and battling her own trauma, the question of Sade’s own motivations for investigating Elizabeth’s disappearance so determinedly is never far away from the reader’s thoughts. Altogether, it makes for an unsettling reading experience with layers upon layers of questions, suspicions and secrets to untangle and, crucially, it’s a mystery that readers want to solve too.

The biggest problem that this novel faces, however, is that with a 500+ page count, Where Sleeping Girls Lie is a chunky novel, and it doesn’t always justify its length. There are a few pacing issues, with an intriguing opening and a quick jump into the initial mystery early on leading to a slower-paced investigative middle that it struggles to entirely shrug off, even as the action ramps up again for the final denouement. This is particularly felt when some of the novel’s important revelations are delivered in long info-heavy chapters that disrupt the narrative flow. Some of the novel’s structural choices feel like a bit of a missed trick too, with metatextual elements like diary entries, interview transcripts and coded notes adding interesting new layers to the storytelling, but they’re ultimately used too sparingly to make much of an impact.

Even so, Where Sleeping Girls Lie is an easy book to recommend, offering a multilayered, suspenseful read with a gripping mystery at its heart and a powerful exploration of pain, trauma, grief and all the varying responses to painful experiences. There are some challenging topics in these pages, yes, but they’re balanced against some much-needed lighter moments, not least in Sade finally being able to find some community and support in the new friendships and relationships she forges through the course of the novel too.

If you’re in the market for a slow burn mystery novel that’s almost guaranteed to ignite your feminine rage, Where Sleeping Girls Lie is the book for you. It’s a hard-hitting read with plenty to keep you guessing and an emotional undercurrent that gives this novel its heart, and not even a bit of an uneven narrative can lessen this novel’s undeniable impact.


Where Sleeping Girls Lie is published by Usborne Publishing on 14 March 2024

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