Girls of Little Hope (Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen) – Book Review

Hell is high school, right?

Girls of Little Hope, the latest offering from both Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen, follows the aftermath of a mysterious incident in which three girls disappear in the woods surrounding the isolated town of Little Hope, and only two return, with their memories all but gone.

Initially pitched to the reader as a nineties spin on the basic premise of Netflix’s Stranger Things, Girls of Little Hope focuses firstly on the friendship between the three girls – headstrong Donna, closeted Rae, and introspective Kat – and then explores their relationships to the town – namely through their parental relationships – while the growing horror at the heart of the town takes root.

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It’s an unsettling novel that, for the most part, balances the fine line between the fraught tensions of teen angst and the explicit horror that fuels the narrative; the latter is particularly noteworthy as Halvorsen and Beckbessinger get to explore Satanic paranoia and cult mentality through the lenses of various subsets of horror (no spoilers).

The heart of the novel remains the friendship between the three girls, vividly expressed through their POVs and diary entries from the missing Kat, as well as a perspective from Kat’s fraught, fractured mother, a standout character for her layered nuances. Comparisons will be made to Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism which itself is a story, ultimately, about the power of female friendship to endure the horrors (both real and imagined) of the world, but Girls of Little Hope more than holds its own ground.

Beckbessinger and Halvorsen do an admirable job of infusing that nineties sensibility into Girls of Little Hope, whether that’s the trio’s love for riot grrrl music, the pop culture references that are scattered throughout, or the high school zine the three girls create which touches on crushes, ‘Free Tibet’, and all things that an alternative teen of the era might want to touch on.

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It’s ultimately a shame then that the big third act climax, when hell really has come to the small town of Little Hope, that it literally just stops, and as a result we’re left with a conclusion that, while offering some scant answers and an interesting choice of narrative device, is nowhere near as satisfying as the previous 300-plus pages that lead up to it.

Despite being lumbered with an uneven finale that goes out with a fizzle rather than a bang, there’s a lot to enjoy in Girls of Little Hope, a paean to female friendship in all its anarchic, powerful, tumultuous glory. If you’re looking for a book that explores wider, feminist themes of friendship while also being a gory, violent, disturbing horror, then the discerning reader could pick fewer better examples than Girls of Little Hope.

Girls of Little Hope is out now from Titan Books.

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