Monday, December 30, 2013

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

Dangerous Girls is a murder mystery that involves a group of teens in Aruba on their spring break holiday.

Anna Chevalier is a senior at a private school for Boston's wealthy, Hillcrest Prep, when the events described in Dangerous Girls take place. Anna transferred to Hillcrest at the beginning of her junior year. As an outsider, at first Anna experiences bullying from Lindsay Shaw and her posse of rich girls. But one girl from Lindsay's clique, Elise Warren, befriends her and that is the start of Anna's tranformation from invisible wallflower to popular "it" girl.

Anna and Elise become close friends but Elise's influence on Anna is not a positive one. She begins skipping classes and lies to her father about where she is going, to parties and drinking. "...Elise...She was my catalyst. The glint in my eye, the giddy thrill in my stomach, the voice urging me to be louder, bolder, to blend into the background no more."

Anna first notices Tate Dempsey, one of the most popular guys at Hillcrest, a star athlete and member of the student government the summer before her senior year. Anna is struggling to deal with the return of her mother's cancer  and dreads having to cope with her mother's illness all over again. She had first noticed Tate at a college party near the end of the semester just before summer vacation. Tate is different from the other popular, rich boys because he seems humble and caring. Tate wants to enter politics someday and so his parents urge him to be careful about what he does and how he behaves.

Their summer is spent at the beach and doing road trips. Over the summer Anna and Elise are soon joined by Max and Chelsea Day and an old friend of Elise's, Melanie Chang. Soon Tate's buddy Lamar becomes involved with Chelsea and Akshay Kundra also a friend of Tate, joins their group. And suddenly Anna has her own clique.

In their senior year, tension begins to develop between Elise and Anna, who is falling hard for Tate. Elise warns her not to take Tate too seriously, that he is only going to break up with her in a month or two. Anna suspects that Elise is jealous, especially when she begins to complain about how much time Anna spends with Tate and not with her.

By spring break, the group decides to spend the holiday at Ak's dad's house in Aruba. But their vacation turns deadly when Elise is brutally murdered during what appears to be a break-in. During the course of the investigation by prosecutor, Judge Klaus Dekker, the focus gradually shifts entirely to Anna.

Dangerous Girls is a fascinating murder mystery with a twist at the end that leaves readers truly wanting justice. Haas does provide her readers with clues to the twist throughout the book, but the reader isn't certain until the very last page of the novel.


Besides a good storyline, the strength of this novel is its great character development. Haas has created a complex and enigmatic character in Anna Chevalier, a girl who felt completely abandoned by her parents - an overworked father and a terminally ill mother, and who was an outsider at school. With the help of her best friend Elise, she manages to form her own clique, but her relationship with Elise is deeply enmeshed and ultimately proves to be harmful to Anna. Anna is unable to take responsibility for any of her actions and we see her constantly pushing the blame for her behaviour onto others in her life - her mother and her friends.

Elise is the quintessential party girl, and a young woman who uses sexual attraction to control men. She is emotionally manipulative towards Anna who appears to depend upon Elise for her emotional security. Elise is constantly pushing the envelope on what she can get away with, seeming to avoid the consequences of her actions.

Tate is characterized as a young man already willing to compromise his integrity to achieve his political goals of the future. Although one might excuse him because he's being controlled by his parents, nevertheless he is old enough to know that by lying to Dekker he has now become an accessory to murder. This is something he has to live with the rest of his life.

The storyline of Dangerous Girls is remarkably similar to the real life tragedy of American teen, Natalee Holloway who disappeared in Aruba in 2005 and whose body has never been found. It is likely she was last seen in the company of local resident, Joran van der Sloot and Deepak and Satish Kalpoe.

Overall, this was an interesting read that touches on the themes of betrayal and revenge.

Book Details:
Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
New York: Simon Pulse    2013
388 pp.

Haas captures many of the features of murder investigations in jurisdictions outside the United States;  a group of wealthy senior high schools students vacationing on an island,  a compromised crime scene and a shadowy potential suspects that are never fully investigated.

There's some sexual content in this novel

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