Lynn Weingarten’sSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girlsunless you have a few solid hours to spare. Because once you start reading, good luck pulling yourself out of a rabbit hole where no one is who they seem to be and death may not really be the end. This bizarre, suspenseful, and darkly sexy novel offers an unflinching look at two high school girls’ loss of innocence, and takes the concept of teenage angst from teen movie fodder to murderous intent.
June has been avoiding her former best friend Delia, preferring to stay clear of the troubled teen and a particularly unpleasant memory the two share. But when June walks into homeroom one morning after Christmas break, she receives shocking news: Delia has committed suicide, burning herself alive in an old shed. June is devastated, but has no reason to doubt this was the final desperate act of a troubled girl. But Delia’s ex-boyfriend, Jeremiah, has his own theory: he believes Delia was murdered.
Desperate to discover the truth about her friend’s death, June enters Delia’s dark world. And the deeper she digs, the more suspicious she becomes. Can she really trust Jeremiah, who has become steadily more unstable since Delia’s death and has an unexplained burn on his head? What about Tig, the drug dealer Delia stole from? Then there’s Ryan, June’s boyfriend, who has his own complicated history with Delia. And finally there’s Delia herself, whose life and death are becoming more and more complicated. June is determined to solve the mystery, but a startling discovery turns her world upside down.
The novel jumps between June’s point of view and Delia’s, slowly piecing together the puzzle of why the girls grew apart and the consequences of that separation. Tension builds as their narratives slowly work their way toward each other, culminating as their timelines meet in an explosive twist sure to flip the expectations of readers on their heads. In fact, readers, it’s best to just throw out your expectations early, sit back, and allow the novel to take you along for a ride. The two-narrator structure is essential to the plot, filling in plot gaps while becoming increasingly unreliable. Like June, we struggle to keep up with the twists and turns of Delia’s life, while Delia’s own chapters do little to paint a clearer picture. Instead, she seems almost giddy at the opportunity to keep June and readers off balance, and somehow grows both more sympathetic and more deranged as the novel progresses.
It’s tempting to consider Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls a sort of Gone Girl for the YA set, and it’s true that if you’re a fan of one, you’ll likely love the other. But this isn’t a watered-down version of a psychological thriller, it’s a powerhouse in its own right. It takes readers into a seedy underbelly where drugs, violence, and illicit sex are part of real life, not the subject of after-school specials. It’s a horrifying, hopeless world designed to make readers very, very uncomfortable.
This darkness is the novel’s biggest strength. Weingarten is never afraid to go there, but even in the novel’s most bizarre passages, its tone never shifts into unbelievable or comical. The reader is granted no reprieve; instead we’re brought deeper and deeper into the darkness, with no hope of escape. In the end, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls leaves its conclusion up to its readers. On what tone do we want the novel to end? Are we so desperate for relief that we grasp at a pseudo “happy” ending, or do we allow the novel to drag us down to its very lowest depths? Whatever you choose, prepare to feel deeply unsettled for the rest of the day.