GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: Deliciously dark psychological suspense
Welcome to The Goode School: an elite all-girls boarding school dedicated to preparing the daughters of the world’s most powerful men and women for Ivy League college degrees and high-powered careers. Nestled among the rolling hills of rural Virginia, The Goode School - and its students - are a picture of elegance, success, and wealth. But a newcomer has arrived at Goode, and she’s bringing with her secrets that aren’t just shocking—they’re deadly. Enter the world of J.T. Ellison’s pitch-perfect boarding school suspense novel, GOOD GIRLS LIE. Following a young woman who moves from the UK to attend The Goode School in the wake of a family tragedy, GOOD GIRLS LIE traces the fallout from our protagonist’s arrival at Goode and examines the series of events that led her to Goode in the first place. Intricately woven and cleverly plotted, GOOD GIRLS LIE is a masterclass in psychological suspense writing. It’s a story with as many dark corners and hidden secrets as the fabled school in which it’s set. Blending drama worthy of Pretty Little Liars with layered, intricate plotting and seriously sinister secrets, GOOD GIRLS LIE is, simply put, a heck of a lot of fun to read. This wicked psychological thriller is my new favorite Ellison book, and that’s saying something—I’ve loved every book of hers I’ve reviewed here. Readers looking for an adult suspense novel in the vein of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars: add this book to your holiday wishlist immediately.
Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.
In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.
But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.
I’m a bit of a latecomer to the J.T. Ellison game; I first dipped into her work in 2017 with her excellent domestic suspense novel LIE TO ME. What struck me then, and continues to impress me now, is how Ellison is so very good at identifying - and digging into - a particular theme in her works of standalone suspense. There’s an instant appeal to her plots, driven in large part by the distinctive backgrounds of her protagonists. In LIE TO ME, readers followed a married couple, both of whom were published authors; in her 2018 release TEAR ME APART, we were dropped into the life of a young woman who was an Olympic hopeful in downhill skiing; now, in GOOD GIRLS LIE, readers head to boarding school with a young woman who desperately needs a fresh start. J.T. Ellison’s world-building is unparalleled, and the immersive and wholly distinctive settings she crafts in each of these standalone suspense novels is a huge selling point for this reader. That she fills these worlds with such complex, thoughtfully-crafted characters is the cherry on top.
In GOOD GIRLS LIE, readers are sent back to high school—but I’m betting (and hoping…) this high school experience isn’t quite like yours. The Goode School is a prestigious preparatory school dedicated to educating the daughters of the wealthiest people in America, and around the world. The young women who attend Goode are the daughters of senators, ambassadors, high-powered lawyers, CEOs… you get the picture. The expectations placed on students at Goode are sky-high, and the school’s Honor Code governs all. It’s a regimented environment, but as long as the girls follow the rules and study hard, their bright futures - and Ivy League university acceptances - are all but guaranteed. It’s the kind of education most people could only dream of, but for Ash Carr, Goode is an unexpected deviation in her life plan. Ash grew up in the UK, the daughter of a powerful and volatile man. Ash’s home life was far from perfect; tensions ran high between her and her parents. As a form of punishment for his daughter, Ash’s father arranged for her to leave the UK and travel to Virginia to begin her sophomore year of high school at Goode. But before Ash could leave for the US, tragedy struck: her father passed away suddenly, and her mother, heartbroken by the loss, took her own life. With the weight of this family tragedy on her shoulders, Ash departs the UK for Virginia, determined to leave behind the darkness that seems to have plagued her at home and begin a new - and more honest - life in Virginia.
As Ash settles into her new life, she is faced with the usual high school challenges: cliques, bullying, and demanding courses that push her above and beyond anything she has known before. But something more sinister is coming for Ash, too. The darkness in Ash’s past seems to have followed her to Goode. Ash has entered into a school where nothing is as it seems, and everyone - her peers, her professors, the school’s Dean - is hiding something. GOOD GIRLS LIE begins with a harrowing scene: the corpse of a young woman hanging outside the school’s imposing wrought iron gates. The story then backs up, taking readers alongside Ash as she navigates Goode, tracing the increasingly dark and sinister events leading up to the brutal crime. Interwoven flashbacks to Ash’s home life in the UK add depth and dimension to this deliciously dark “popcorn read.” GOOD GIRLS LIE is an intricate story, to be sure, but I’ve come to recognize it as a hallmark of J.T. Ellison’s writing that her books can swiftly and easily span continents and years without author or reader missing a beat. Ellison’s writing in GOOD GIRLS LIE is effortless, a confection that’s sugar, spice, and everything nice—with a dash of murder and manipulation, too.
GOOD GIRLS LIE is a story of secrets: the secrets students keep from one another, the secrets they keep from themselves, and the secrets long buried in the educational institution they call home. Secrets drive this story forward, and readers will hang on each and every revelation Ellison provides about the women and men who fill this book’s pages. Ellison is an absolute master at crafting characters who feel just a bit larger than life while still retaining a sense of authenticity and believability. Ash Carr and her peers at Goode feel both made for TV and, at their core, realistic; these are young women whose drama may be exaggerated for effect, but their core motivations and desires are so very down-to-earth. Special attention is paid to Ash and the school’s Dean - two women in very different stages of life, but with many commonalities underlying their characters. These are women who want to feel confident, comfortable, and accepted—in their school, their world, and even in their own skin. They are women who want to throw off the shadow of their past and step into their own future. They are women with secrets—secrets which, if revealed, would threaten to upend not only their lives, but the lives of everyone around them. The deeper you dig into these characters, the more you’ll want to keep reading about them; Ellison masterfully pulls back the curtain on Ash, the Dean, and the women of Goode over the course of the novel, never revealing their truest selves until the story’s end. Similarly, Ellison thoughtfully develops the book’s secondary characters (though I hesitate to call them “secondary,” as they’re truly so vividly drawn). Look for Ellison to develop heartfelt and sensitive storylines for Ash’s peers at Goode, and be prepared for true shock at the fates in store for some of these women.
GOOD GIRLS LIE is a superb psychological thriller. It’s a deliciously dark, wickedly plotted suspense story that probes the harrowing experience of being a teenage girl. It’s a thriller with drama, secret societies, cliques, illicit affairs, manipulation, and, of course, murder, and it’s the sort of book you never want to end. I thought I’d already fallen as hard for J.T. Ellison’s writing as I possibly could, but it turns out the limit does not exist. GOOD GIRLS LIE is my new favorite Ellison novel, and if you’re a fan of psychological suspense and/or suspense novels with a boarding school setting, this one is worth pre-ordering (or adding to your holiday wishlist!).
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: MIRA; Original edition (December 30, 2019)
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