Kate has fought her way from private school to private school, leaving her past as far behind her as she can, looking for her best shot at Yale. Waverley is her chance, and she'll do whatever she has to to make it work. When she meets Olivia--reserved and maybe lonely--Kate sees an opportunity for access to money and resources that she completely lacks on her own.
Both girls have secrets, but they find a friendship in each other that they haven't had before. When a handsome young staff member comes to school, though, the delicate social world of the campus is thrown into turmoil. Kate is a master game player and she won't let anything get in her way, but Olivia's friendship means everything to her--emotionally and practically.
So there's my back cover blurb-style summary of Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten. This was one of the most un-put-down-able books I've read in a long time--it's quick, and I'm afraid I have to use the word trashy, though that is in NO way a pejorative. I love books about manipulators of human behavior, whether they're the protagonist or the antagonist, and I love Kate, who at first seems like a major antihero, but whom I really come to see as focused and maybe a little too hardened. Olivia's fragile reserve gets more ominous as you go on, and it's amazing how each character develops so much over the course of the book--they keep unfolding as you go along. It's masterfully done.
One other small thing that I loved was that, while most of the adults had huge blind spots, they were all well-intentioned (except the evil ones). They screw up and make mistakes, but they're not brushing off kids asking for help, or pretending they don't exist, or trivializing them. They're blind, but there are a lot of people trying to take care of Olivia and Kate, and I think that went a long way to making me believe that this was a world full of real people.
The big weakness I do want to touch on is the treatment of mental illness, though--a lot of thriller tropes about mental illness are sort of lumped together. Sociopaths are fascinating, but they're not all the same, and they're not even close to all murderers; having no empathy doesn't make murder enjoyable. Sure, when those things go together, you get a bad scene, but the psychology here is definitely ripped from the headlines, and not of the most reputable scholarly journals. There are a lot of mental illnesses that come up here as central plot points, and almost none of them are more nuanced than somewhere between melodrama and slasher movie.
But woo, Nellie, it kept me reading. Fast-paced, switching back and forth between Kate's intense, smart first person and Olivia's spaced out, nervous third person, and I wasn't sure if the book was ever on the rails till it got yanked directly off them. It was a wild, wild ride, and there was a cute dog named Bruce, too. I wish there was a dispenser that would give me a book just like this one whenever I need it--on long train rides, and between big dense literary novels.
Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC of this one! I guess they're my dispenser.