Book review-Plain Bad Heroines

I was really looking forward to read this book, after reading a review in a magazine describing this as a gothic horror. But unfortunely, I was left sorely disappointed despite the amazing cover.

Author:Emily M Danforth with Illustrations by Sara Lautman

Genre: Romance/drama( sometimes described as horror but more feels more creepy than scary)

Content :warning attempted rape scene

Good reads summary

Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

A story within a story within a story and featuring black-and-white period illustrations. 


This book is about a film about a book that is about a book- a memoir written in early last century by a teenage feminist Mary MacLane. Merritt, a young wonderkid whose bestseller about a tragedy occuring in 1902 is about to be turned into a film starring the famous actress Harper Harper. Merritt’s book delves into the death of two young girls obessed with Mary Maclane in a progressive school run by Libby and her lover Alex. But the main players in this story are being filmed to capture how the Merritt and Harper respond to a number of staged , creepy moments except these may not be staged, the film and the book may actually be cursed ( or not, I just couldn’t work this out by the end of the book.).Confused, I have to admit I was for most of the book.

The Good

This is the kind of book, I would leave causally lying around to impress my book loving friends who sometimes can look down on genre fiction. The author has a unique way of writing that despite that kept me reading even though it wasn’t the kind of book , I would normally tolerate . For example, the description of the chandelier tree has made me add Los Angeles and that tree, to my places of that I want to visit someday. I could feel the joy in the scenes of Alez and Libby splashing in the sea together for the first time with their friends,.The idea of a book about a book being turned into a film that is being filmed is intriguing. If I wasn’t expecting a horror book, I think I might have enjoyed this more.

There is a good representation of diverse characters from LGBTQ and non-white backgrounds that wasn’t shoehorned in. I loved , the little joke that the Bo the director makes about the confusion caused by the fact there were two Indian directors makes creeepy films in Hollywood.

I enjoyed the story of Libby and Alex, an older couple, in the 1902 timeline. Their romance was realistic, the initial rush in the first stages of infatuation but turning into a familiarity that can be boring when you spend years with the same person. I would have happily read a book just featuring the 1902 timeline focussing on Libby and Alex and their troubles with Mary Maclane’s scandalous book.

The illustrations are beautifully weird and are one of the highlights of the book.

The bad

This book hit my radar after a positive review in my favourite sci-fiction magazine( and their reviews have never failed me,so far) and I had to buy the book when I saw the bold striking cover. The premise seemed to be a creepy ghost story featuring a curse and of the intriguing, this is a book about a film within a film about a book, about a book. How could I not be intrigued?

But now I feel, I have been mis-sold . This is not a book for anyone expecting a horror or ghost story. The main plot is complicated with messy romances between its many lead characters. The characters in the modern timeline start off being different but then they all merged, in my head, into a single amorphous mass in her twenties with great hair, quirky clothes, the same insecurities with some kind of social media account. I found it hard to warm to Merritt, Audrey or Harper Harper( Yes, that really is her name) like I did with Alex or Libby.

The book is written in the third person with an omniscient unknown narrator frequently interrupting the story with their thoughts and opinions throughout the text and in the form of footnotes. I actually love the use of footnotes that add to the story ( Mr Norell and Mr Strange) or add to the humour ( Good omens) but the footnotes in this book are distracting and add nothing to the story. The asterisks in the text are so tiny, that I had to go back and look at the text to find out what in the text the footnotes allude to. The narrator also frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the reader, well, as ‘reader’ which caused me plain,bad irritation. We all know that one person, who thinks they are funnier than they are and insists on telling that funny thing that happened to them and the unknown narrator channels their sprit through the book.

The book is humongous, my arms actually hurt trying to read the book and this is one of the few times I wished I bought this on the Kindle instead of a hardback. I don’t think this photo truly reflects how big this book is. I normally love huge books ( I feel like I’m getting a great deal- more story for the same money) but in this case, the book could have been much shorter.

 I could have forgiven all of this- the lack of horror, the endless romance and angst, the annoying narrator if there was a satisfying conclusion to the story but it just ends with an explanation that lasts a few pages. There should have been more, given how big this book is. I had to try google to see if there were any explanations. There aren’t many but there were lots of reviews I enjoyed reading ( more than the book).

The Ugly

Beisdes the attempted rape scene, there is an scene where Merritt pressures Audrey on discussing her sexuality in public which made uncomfortable reading. The ending could have been longer and more detailed even if it meant cutting out a few of Merritt’s chapters


Lots, all of the main charcters seem to have a thing for each other but my favorite is the very real love story bewteen Libby and Alex.

Any cliffhangers?

No. .

Perfect for

Readers who love literary and inventive books, book with a diverse representation, romance and drama. Definitely not for people expecting to be scared out of their wits.


Three stars- I have knocked two stars because of the ending and I think this could have easily been a much shorter book.

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