Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Scratch the surface of any family hard enough and you'll draw blood . . .
No one can believe it when straight A student Romy Field finds herself at the centre of a scandal, least of all her mother Ailsa - who is also the head of her new school.
Ailsa is quick to hold Romy's new boyfriend and his parents responsible for what has happened. But as mother and daughter reveal their very different version of events, a much darker truth emerges. It soon becomes apparent that Romy isn't the only member of her family harbouring secrets and her disgrace becomes the catalyst for the unravelling of all those around her.
It takes a split second to make a decision that can alter the course of your life.
And a lifetime to undo the consequences.
The Good Girl is certainly a real departure for author Fiona Neill. Previous to this she had written light, easy women's reads one of which I had only read, that being The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy. The cover for this new book is simple yet eye catching, it’s dark, contemplative and atmospheric which sums up the feeling I got from the entire book. I read this book in a day as the overall plot was very interesting and its themes and issues are becoming ever more relevant in today's society. Normally I don't pay much attention to quotes at the beginning of books but in this case the quote from Don Quixote rang very true and suited the overall tone of the book. I kept the quote firmly in my mind as I delved into the story of the Fields family and how one girls attempt at what she views as being helpful can lead to such disastrous consequences and also allow secrets best kept buried to be uncovered.
Ailsa Fields is slowly finding her feet and asserting her authority as headteacher of a secondary school in Luckmore, Norfolk. Her whole family had been uprooted some to their obvious reluctance so Alisa could start a new job and create a better life of her family. Ailsa is a born leader, always in control, people follow her and seek advice. She is a hard, deciated worker and a stickler for detail. She runs a tight ship in school and would like to think she could do the same at home. At work she can present a tough exterior, one which is impenetrable as she seeks perfection for the school, students and staff. But the demeanour she has built up is about to be shattered as head of biology Matt arrives into her office. Thinking she can give him a brief few minutes to listen to whatever small issue he has little does she realise everything she has worked for is about to come crashing down and the source is a lot closer to home than she could have ever imagined. Her daughter Romy – straight A student and destined for medical school has just landed herself in big trouble all thanks to social media and a tangled web of intrigue begins to become undone. I won't give away what actually happened suffice to say it's every mothers worst nightmare not to mention that no girl would want the same thing happening to them. This quote sums up exactly how dangerous the internet and social media can be and that is what causes Romy and her husband Harry's life to go into free fall. 'In the digital age one badly thought out decision could end up defining you for the rest of your life'.
We then jump back in time to three months before the said incident and we very slowly over the course of the novel realise what led Romy to that revelation in her mother's office. I liked how we didn't just continue on from the exposing of the secret. Going back just that brief length of time was great because we got to know all members of the family. One thing is for sure it only further enforced for me that people can never be judged on first appearances. Each chapter alternated between Romy and Ailsa's viewpoint and I found myself preferring to read more of Romy, I felt I could get inside her head more. I don't think I can really justify her actions, I believe still being a teenager and enjoying the first flushes of love made her do silly things. Infatuation maybe more so than love got in the way. She got in too deep and even though she believed what she was doing would ultimately benefit the person in question. Really that person was old beyond their years and needed specific help which Romy could not ultimately provide. She became lost and confused and let other things cloud her judgement. I wish she had been more open with her parents earlier. Even just her mother as I know she had suspicions about her father.
Each member of the Fields family has things to hide and we the reader get to see everything unfold way before the main characters themselves do. Harry spends most of his time in the basement researching and writing his book. He is a scientist and being totally honest a lot of what he said went straight over my head. There was an awful lot of science terminology and lingo used throughout the book. At one stage even Romy gets involved with it. I know the author was trying to link some of Harry's studies as a way of explaining teenage development and behaviour but it all became a bit too much for me and I skim read through those passages. It required a certain level of in depth thinking that I wasn't prepared to do on the day I read this book. But this element would make for a good book group discussion. Luke and Ben are Romy's brothers, Luke didn't feature all that much but in the later stages of the book proved invaluable. The star of the book for me was Ben. OK so I know I was supposed to concentrate on Ailsa, Romy and Harry and their neighbours the Fairports but really Ben was always there at just the most pivotal of moments.The author states he cannot be put into any group like Aspergers etc but there is definitely something amiss with him. Yet on the other hand his acute observations and memory for detail, routine and recollection made him a stand out character who had some of the best lines in the book.
I have mentioned the Fairports, their arrival next door to the Fields' is the catalyst that will change everything. To be honest they were the oddest of couples with their two sons Jay and Marley. Really if they had never moved in and showed the Field's their alternative lifestyle beliefs and practices the whole major event behind the book would never have occurred. I found some of the things they engaged in just not to my taste and I kind of glanced over some parts where the couple were featured but the two sons proved very interesting.
There were a strong bunch of characters in The Good Girl. Each was very well thought out and played their part to perfection. None were badly written or supplementary to requirements. Yet I can't say I particularly liked any of them apart from younger brother Ben as I have mentioned. I question whether Ailsa's storyline with her sister and father was really needed. I understand that was partly why the family moved back to Norfolk but could it have been another book in itself? Was too much packed into the book? The Good Girl did keep me guessing until the end and I was glad as I hate to discover the truth too early on.
This was a satisfying read and as I have said the topics raised are beginning to feature more prominently in our everyday lives. This is not a light easy read but one which requires your attention as it is deep and complex and really sets you thinking. It makes you all the more aware of the perils of the net and how all of our actions can have the most serious of consequences. If you want something a bit different this summer and are growing tired of your usual light 'chick-lit' give The Good Girl a go. I am very intrigued as to what Fiona Neill will write next, will she stick to this genre now she has dipped her toes in or will she return to the style of her previous books? Only time will tell.