I had never heard of Laura Pohl or her upcoming series, The Grimrose Girls, before the first book appeared on my Netgalley dashboard a few weeks ago, but as soon as I saw the description, I knew I needed to read it.
The Grimrose Girls is a Once Upon A Time-style fairytale retelling, and a slightly unhinged high school murder mystery, and a whole bunch of fanfic tropes, all rolled up into one fast-paced and highly entertaining story. It’s full of heart, and I highly enjoyed reading it.
Here’s the summary, courtesy of Netgalley:
After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled Ariane’s death as a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.
When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose—Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl.
They soon learn that all the past murders are connected to ancient fairytale curses…and that their own fates are tied to the stories, dooming the girls to brutal and gruesome endings unless they can break the cycle for good.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
The large cast of characters is simultaneously this book’s biggest strength and its biggest weakness. On the one hand, each character is a fresh and interesting take on their fairytale counterpart. All the protagonists end up being remarkably well fleshed out considering how many of them there are. Each one has a distinctive personality and an interesting storyline.
On the other hand, The Grimrose Girls has way too many characters and points of view. For about the first half of the book, I was constantly mixing up details about the main girls or confusing side characters for each other. The constant POV-changes were a bit disorienting. It also didn’t help that neither of the four narrators had a very distinctive voice, so I often had to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to remind myself who was speaking.
Again, though, the characters of The Grimrose Girls are very interesting once you get to know them. It’s a diverse cast, and the book touches on sexuality, gender, race and disability, among other issues. I don’t think there’s a single straight character in the main cast, and it rules. Diversity is discussed and present on the page, but never in a way that feels overly heavy-handed.
For the most part, I think the author did a good job of portraying characters of various marginalized identities. However, there were a few moments that felt a bit off to me. There’s nuance to each situation and I don’t necessarily want to condemn the book for things that I’m not exactly in the best position to evaluate, but I am interested to hear other people’s perspectives once the book comes out.
For instance, there’s a moment where a character with a chronic illness needs to perform a feat of physical strength that her illness prevents her from doing, and she just… does it. Out of sheer force of will. The character’s illness is generally treated with a lot of nuance in the book, but I just don’t see why that particular scene was necessary, especially since overcoming illness or disability is a very harmful trope when it comes to disabled characters. The one aromantic and asexual character also has a storyline that revolves around her being closed off and a bit emotionless. I actually loved the character and really enjoyed her storyline, which I thought was treated with a lot of care. However, given how little aromantic and asexual representation there is in media, I was suspicious of the decision to have this character adhere so closely to stereotypes. It’s exactly because this book does such a good job with representation that these gaffes are so noticeable.
Ships can make or break a story. I don’t think romance is necessarily a requirement in every book, but a badly written or forced romance can ruin a book. A good romance can also make the difference between passively enjoying the story and staying up until 2AM reading fanfiction. I am pleased to report that The Grimrose Girls delivers on all counts when it comes to relationships.
I was kind of surprised at how much I enjoyed each of the romance storylines. There wasn’t a lot of time to develop either one, but I thought the author did a very good job of making them believable in a short amount of time. Each couple had a different dynamic, and I was rooting for them all throughout the story.
Obviously, the romantic relationships all take a backseat to the friendship between the four main girls, with good reason. The dynamic between these four is easily the book’s biggest strength, and the main reason I can’t wait for the sequel.
The Grimrose Girls is a murder mystery, with a fairy-tale element that’s very reminiscent of Once Upon A Time. It keeps you guessing. I was certainly entertained, especially once things started to pick up toward the end.
My one big complaint here is that it didn’t feel like there was enough time to wrap up every single storyline that was introduced. I’m sure those storylines will be more fleshed out in the sequel, but I ended the book just kind of annoyed that so many storylines were dropped.
The Grimrose Girls is an ambitious project, with a huge cast of characters and a lot of different storylines happening at once. It doesn’t always work, but it does work most of the time. It’s a turn-your-brain-off type of book that doesn’t demand a lot of its readers and will surely make you laugh with its witty dialogue. It’s also appropriate for the spooky season!
I read a lot of YA, and most of the books I review on this blog are in that category, but I’d say that this is the first book I’ve read in a while that really feels like it’s aimed at teenagers. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fun and quick read with interesting characters.
The Grimrose Girls comes out October 26th, 2021.