I picked up this book on a whim while perusing the fiction/scifi section at my local library. I’m not usually one to read murder mysteries or thrillers, so the fact I walked out of the building with this book in hand is a testament to the cover art and book description:
In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras, leaving anachronistic clues on their bodies, until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and turns the hunt around.
They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I always do – and I even work at a library! Lauren Beukes‘ “The Shining Girls” is a fantastic read and I enjoyed every page of it. I was worried after reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (for the first time) a year ago that I would be hard pressed to find another book that would keep me up into the wee hours of the morning. I find as I get older my tastes are more demanding and my standards are higher, making it difficult to find books that I enjoy. Lauren made it easy to enjoy her novel.
I see most things through a feminist lens by default and this book is no exception. While the acts of the book’s antagonist are offensive to women in the deepest way possible, the atrocities are handled in a way that is incredibly tuned in to feminist sensibilities. What more powerful a metaphor for patriarchy than a time traveling serial killer targeting women who are striving for more than society says they should have? Throughout the book we see through many character’s eyes, and land in the head of multiple, diverse women. It almost goes without saying that the book passes the Bechdel test. The main protagonists are Kirby, who was almost murdered earlier in her life, and Dan, a criminal reporter turned sports reporter who covered Kirby’s almost-murder. Kirby is a complicated young woman struggling to make sense of the senseless crime done against her. She does not allow herself to only be defined as a victim.
I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to the high level of research done to invoke the time periods used as backdrops in this novel. I love historical fiction and Lauren’s research on each period jumps out of the pages, adding a level of interest that really drew me in. The character’s personalities and lives are tinged with the fears, worries, and landscapes of the era they reside in. Lauren weaves it all together with something close to magical prose.
The book does need some trigger warnings. Lauren uses very descriptive language for very unpleasant scenes of murder, and the murderer gets his jollies from said unpleasantness. However, the gruesome details are not gratuitous. I think Janet Maslin at the New York Times said it best in her review:
“… Ms. Beukes emphatically does not make femicide (as the book calls it) sexy, and perhaps that’s why she leaves Harper as such a cipher. We neither get nor want to read his mind; it’s Kirby’s gumption and bravery that matter. She was a special kid, but she wasn’t necessarily bound for glory. It took a monstrous villain to turn her into a heroine.”
If you are looking for a good book that will keep you up for a few nights in a row, this is the book for you!
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