There’s much to praise in Amy K. Green’s debut thriller, The Prized Girl. The story ping-pongs between two sisters, the older Virginia and the younger Jenny, whose only link is having the same father. Virginia goes on a downward spiral after her mother commits suicide and, rather than sympathy from those around her, she suffers rejection and apathy. Things don’t improve when her father marries Linda and they have Jenny.
The girls were never close, partly because of the gap in their ages, but mostly because of their very different lives. Virginia cycles through a series of jobs, lives in a small apartment, and spends most of her time getting drunk. Jenny, fussed over and controlled by Linda, becomes a beauty pageant queen and seems to have a charmed life. In reality, Jenny has many secrets and after she is found murdered, Virginia becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth and finding the killer. Doing so will unearth, not only events from Jenny’s life, but also those that continue to haunt Virginia. In a small town, paths are crossed and everyone is a suspect.
The Prized Girl is told from two points of view. Virginia’s sections, focusing on the present, are in the first person as she goes about collecting evidence and, in the process, stirring up more than one hornet’s next. Jenny’s story, told in the third person, covers the past, up to and including her murder. Green is skillful as she bounces between the two points of view, helping us to gradually form a picture of how Jenny’s life went off the rails and how Virginia’s actions, unintentional though they were, contributed to Jenny’s death.
The term “page turner” is often overused to describe how one can become so absorbed in a mystery that putting it aside becomes impossible. Green certainly succeeds in this regard. The Prized Girl, at more than 370 pages, is hard to put down. While the thriller is plot driven, the characters are well developed. We come to know them with all of their flaws, and that presents a hurdle. None of the characters, and that includes, in addition to Virginia and Jenny, the girl’s father, Linda, the police officer investigating Jenny’s murder, and two teachers at the high school who figure prominently in both girls’ lives, are likable. It becomes difficult to build up any empathy for even Virginia and Jenny when they seem so self absorbed and selfish. Just when we think we know how the story will end, Green throws in a startling twist that even the sharpest minds may not have seen coming.
One nit: why must we have female protagonists who are portrayed as drunks? This includes The Girl on the Train, The Girl in the Window, and now The Prized Girl. Having the main character not being in full control of her faculties obviously presents numerous plot possibilities for the writer. But it’s creating a negative stereotype that we can do without. A sobering thought, right?
Top photo: Bigstock
Author photo credit: RJ deGuzman
The Prized Girl
Amy K. Green