Ambrosia Wellington, the protagonist of Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s first thriller for adult readers, discovers that packing away her high-school identity before college isn’t as easy as changing her style of jeans. An aspiring actor, Ambrosia (or Amb, as she prefers to be called) imagines a panoramic Technicolor future in which she is the star – until she arrives at Wesleyan University and finds herself cast in a supporting role.
On her first day at college, Amb is quickly dismissive of her sweet roommate Flora, a pretty innocent dressed in a gingham dress whom she judges to be as wholesome as the kids’ book heroine Heidi. Amb also realizes that her New Jersey version of sophistication is as obvious as a Vuitton handbag, especially compared to the easy coolness of her rich dorm mates from Manhattan and Los Angeles. It’s unsurprising that Amb, angry and feeling rather entitled, is drawn to the chaotic energy of Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, a charismatic leader in fishnets and Doc Martens, who offers Amb a new persona as a bad girl. Their intense friendship and partying reputations set in motion a series of events that ends in a devastating tragedy for which the duo is blamed.
Without giving away spoilers, the story alternates between Amb’s freshman year and present day when she is invited by email to her 10-year college reunion. Amb’s younger husband, the amicable Adrian, is unaware of her past and of her relationships with Sully and Flora. Although there are many hints along the way as to what happened to this cohort, Flynn draws out the details of the past with assured restraint. She maintains suspense as the story unfolds, without dropping the propulsive energy set up from page one.
Despite the fact that a decade has passed, Amb clearly hasn’t grown much in her relationships. She’s stuck in the past in many ways, still viewing the people in her life as a means to an end. It’s unclear plot-wise why Amb would put herself in the position of returning to the scene of the crime, given her fear that someone is out there looking for revenge à la I Know What You Did Last Summer. Perhaps she can’t help but still desire the starring role, which unfortunately doesn’t leave as much room to develop intriguing characters like Flora and Sully. And while I generally don’t give out trigger warnings, there is a graphic scene describing self-harm that may upset some readers.
Fans of Megan Abbott and her dissection of femininity and violence will find common ground in The Girls Are All So Nice Here. Flynn provides a new take on the dead girl trope through the eyes of an unrepentant female protagonist driven by personal desire and self-interest. It’s a no-brainer to see why the TV rights for the book were quickly optioned by AMC, or to imagine an audience eager to walk the halls of Wesleyan.