Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final GirlsThe final girl is a horror movie character archetype that horror fans like me appreciate and obsess over. Sydney Prescott is a final girl. Nancy Thompson. Laurie Strode… What makes these girls so special is they have something inside that helps them survive unimaginable evil their friends and loved ones do not survive. They are left standing at the end of a blood bath, often after facing and killing the killer themselves.

Here is a book about these girls. It kept showing up under my Books You Might Like on Amazon, and when looking for something to read the other night, I decided to give it a shot. It looked to have the right amount of thriller, suspense, and self-awareness to be fun. It didn’t disappoint.

Plot Synopsis (Spoiler-Free)

Quincy Carpenter is one of three living final girls. The last one standing at the end of a massacre at Pine Cottage, she joins Lisa Kilner, who survived the butchering of her sorority killers, and Samantha Boyd, who survived “The Sackman” at an inn in Florida, as a final girl, a media sensation. Quincy wants to be anything but. Tossing aside the final girl label, Quincy attempts to live a semi-normal life and not let her trauma define her. She owns an apartment, has a boyfriend, and runs her own popular baking blog.

After Lisa is found dead by an apparent suicide, Samantha shows up at Quincy’s door wanting to connect. Quincy is forced to reexamine her position as a final girl in order for Sam and her to heal and deal with Lisa’s death. In spending time with Sam, Quincy learns that Sam is more than meets the eye. Sam pushes Quincy past her boundaries and out of her comfort zone and asks her to remember details of that night, details she has blocked out of her memory to survive.

What is Sam’s agenda? Can she be trusted? What really happened to Lisa? And what happened to Quincy at Pine Cottage?

Review

Final Girls was actually a really fun read. I read it in about two days. It was another book I could not put down. It is not without its faults, though. Two things annoyed me, and I’ll get to those, but first, let’s look at what the Sager did well.

Strengths

1. Characterization – Quincy, Sam, Coop, and even Jeff were developed, interesting characters I bounced back and forth between loving and hating while I read. This is a good thing. They are heavily flawed. (No one likes perfect characters.) The way the book is written, we learn about the characters little by little as layers are revealed to the reader.

Sam, or Tina, rather, is easily the most interesting character. She shows up out of nowhere and is so carefree and daring. Her relationship and interaction with Quincy reminded me a lot of Fayth and Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I kept asking myself, is Tina (Sam) good or bad? And that line kept blurring. When we find out why Tina does the things she does, she is redeemable.

Interestingly, all of the major characters at points in the book are “good” at at other times “bad.” Even Quincy. There was a point in the book where I really believed Quincy had committed the murders at Pine Cottage, and while it turns out that she is not a murderer, Quincy is not the good girl she tries to be. She is a prisoner to her addictions, her anxiety, and her anger, and she makes some poor, cringey decisions. Quincy redeems herself for me at the end of the novel when she breaks up with Jeff after cheating on him. She wants to be a good person.

Finally, Coop does a 180 in the book. The good, caring, nurturing cop is actually a sadistic, manipulative killer? Admittedly, I figured out Coop was the killer moments before it was revealed, but it was a pleasant surprise and turn of events. By that point of the book, it was pretty obvious to me that Quincy did not off her friends, and neither did Tina. With only a few other characters introduced, I concluded Coop was the killer primarily through process of elimination. I like that his careful passion for Quincy remained after he was revealed as the killer. Coop’s personality is consistent; we just see more if by the end of the book. He’s passionate about Quincy, but for more reasons than we initially see.

2. Twists – As I wrote above, the characters bounce back and forth between good and evil. This is revealed primarily in twists. At various parts of the novel, I felt Quincy, Joe, Sam, and Tina were the killer. Facts kept being unraveled and revealed that changed everything. The story made me keep turning the pages. I had to find out what happened next.

I heavily suspected early on that Sam was not Sam, and so the twist of Sam actually being a girl named Tina was not shocking. However, Tina’s reasons for pretending to be Sam was interesting. She wanted to clear the name of the one true friend she ever had, Joe, the Pine Cottage Killer. This one twist made me go from hating Tina to feeling sorry for her and even admiring her a bit. She, despite her faults, was a better person than Quincy, who tried so hard to be appear good.

I wrote about the reveal of Coop already, but I want to say, as a twist, it was good. I found it interesting that Coop tracked down and had romantic relations with all three final girls. And he killed Lisa. I’m still shocked Tina wasn’t Lisa’s killer.

3. Flashbacks – Every couple of chapters, Sager jumps out of first person narration and goes into third person for a chapter. These chapters slowly tell the story of the Pine Cottage killings. I was initially jarred by the change in point of view, but I got used to it, and after while, I started to look forward to these chapters. It is like a story within a story, and I found what happened to Quincy at Pine Cottage far more interesting than what happens to her in the present (beating up a guy in a park? Baking another random sweet?).

Now, let’s look at what bugged me.

Weaknesses

1. Baiting – There were too many instances where a character wanted to tell Quincy something important or Quincy would find a letter or something, and the reader would not find out what that character wanted to say or what is in the letter for pages. I get what Sager was trying to do here; baits can create suspense and make a reader want to keep turning pages. The story is interesting on its own and I already wanted to turn pages. The baits just frustrated me. There were too many of them, and I just felt like Sager was playing with his readers. I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t know; maybe I’m just impatient.

2. The Ending – I think the book should have ended when Quincy got her SURVIVOR tattoo. It was a big statement that was touching in consideration of her relationship with Tina and a symbol of her growth. Sager introduced a new final girl after that, though, and the book ends with Quincy going to see her and tell her that she’s going to train her to be a final girl. Ugh.

Final Thoughts

The horror movie fanatic and film buff in me was really excited about reading this book, and while I do not regret reading it, it is not what I expected. Final girls in horror movies kick a lot of butt, and Quincy was saved by a cop and didn’t even beat up her “killer.” How is she a final girl?

I’m splitting hairs, though. As a suspense book and thriller, Final Girls is top notch. Although it didn’t turn out to be what I thought I was getting, I was pleasantly surprised.

I give this book four baked goods out of five.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s