Sunday, September 23, 2012

Murder, Malevolence, & Mean Girls Run Amok


We’ve all seen them (or, in some cases, maybe even been one of them)... those school girls who hang around in their little cliques, firmly convinced they’re better than everyone else; the ones who, with not much more than condescending looks, artful head tosses, and a few well-timed insults, manage to make the lives of those unfortunate enough to be around them living hells. In other words, the mean girls.

But, there are girls who get off on being merely snobby-mean... and then there are the seriously “Mean Girls” we’re hearing about more and more--vindictive young women who are highly-determined and scarily-organized in their misery-making campaigns.  

Author Kate White takes a closer look at one such group--attending university rather than high school--in the thought-provoking psychological thriller, The Sixes.


In her early 40s--smart, attractive, and extremely successful, with an address book full of über-famous names and numbers, and a long string of best-selling books under her belt--the last thing Manhattan-based celebrity biographer Phoebe Hall expects to be doing is teaching at a small college in Podunk, Pennsylvania... yet that’s precisely where she finds herself.

It didn’t just happen, of course; there’s always some reason behind such a sea change. For Phoebe, it involves something which scares the pants off every writer who’s ever put pen to paper, fingers to typewriter (or keyboard), or voice to dictation machine: the accusation of plagiarism (which ranks in the top two of writerly crimes, alongside willfully making up “facts”).

Does it matter if she’s guilty or not? After reading or seeing enough tabloid “news” coverage in the media, you already know the answer to that; the mere whiff of salacious scandal is all it takes to change public perception for the worse... as Phoebe now knows firsthand.

So, when an old school friend, currently serving as president of a small private college, contacts her with a job offer--filling in a year for a professor who’s on leave--Phoebe jumps at the chance to get away from the scandal dogging her in New York... even if “getting away” is to a tiny river town somewhere in the Keystone State.

She soon finds, however, that no matter where you go, you never really leave your troubles behind...

It all starts when the campus flies into a panic over a missing female student. Phoebe doesn’t recognize the name, but after seeing the girl’s face on a flyer, realizes they’d actually met a few weeks earlier, briefly sharing an umbrella while dashing across campus in an unexpected downpour. With a sense of foreboding, she also remembers the girl had mentioned something about being in trouble--but since each had been been  running late for their classes, she’d merely wished the girl good luck. 

When a body washes ashore a couple days later, Phoebe’s worst fears are realized, and although the troubled young woman’s problems--whatever they were--are now, certainly, over, her friends and fellow students, faculty, and residents of the small community are all left wondering how and why this happened. 

It isn’t until Phoebe learns this wasn’t the first student to die in the same questionable circumstances, however, that things take on a decidedly sinister edge. 

Suddenly, everyone has a theory. One is that a serial killer--cutting a swath through universities in the nation’s midsection for several years, now--has added their small community to his rotation. Another involves a secret society of female students--in essence, a hush-hush (illegal) sorority at their non-Greek school--which induces its members to taunt and demoralize others.

It’s the second theory--a clandestine group of incredibly mean girls--that really grabs Phoebe’s attention, because she fell victim to something very similar during her own high school years. Just thinking about it dredges up a host of painful memories (plus nightmares she thought she’d left behind). Still, she can’t help but feel she owes it to the dead girl to figure out what’s going on, so she starts investigating.

When Phoebe gets the itchy sensation that she’s being watched--and when someone breaks into her house, leaving little “presents” behind--she’s positive she’s on the right track. But, when another person dies--not a student, this time, but a friend who’d been helping with her sleuthing--she has to decide whether or not it’s worth any more lives-- possibly including her own--just to finally uncover the truth.


The Sixes is one of those books that starts with a terrific premise, but sort of meanders off into stretching-any-believability-pretty-damn-thin territory. Why do I say that? There were just too many coincidences, for one thing. This book also involved a lot of suspension-of-disbelief, for me, because I simply cannot accept that a couple of the characters--supposedly personable, bright, capable people--would have turned such a blind eye on things that happened right under their noses. (Making smart characters look like idiots for no good reason isn’t the best idea.)

There were minor quibbles, too. Phoebe gets into a relationship--which is fine, no problem there--that causes her to get awfully angst-y (seriously? she’s in her 40s, folks),  and she has the same thoughts over and over... and over... a few too many times. (I’m not saying we don’t all do that in real life, just that I don’t necessarily need to read someone doing that.) Part of the big denouement felt a tad contrived, too (but some of it was also pretty good, so that probably balances out).

What’s my verdict, then? Actually, I’m going to recommend The Sixes. It isn’t a great story, by any means, but it’s also not a bad one; it’s an easy read, bringing up some interesting, current topics to mull over, and it definitely kept me turning the pages to reach the whodunit (and the whydunit). :)


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 3 out of 5 mousies

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