Warning: I normally never do this, but I really don’t think that I’ll be able to talk about this book in as much detail as I want to without including spoilers, so I’m going to have some white text in here that are things you shouldn’t look at if you haven’t read Dangerous Girls yet, but if you do want to see the spoilers, just highlight the words to make them visible.
I think that this might just be the most disappointing book I’ve read all year. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to finally get to read this one. It’s been on my “must read ASAP” TBR shelf on Goodreads since it came out a little over a year ago, but I decided to wait and let the hype die down a bit before I tried it out. So, this month, I decided that it was about freaking time I read it…and was absolutely blown away by how much I didn’t like it. I was expecting Dangerous Girls to become an instant favorite. I’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this book, and it just seems like something that I would really, really like, from what I’ve heard about it. So I was honestly shocked when I realized that, despite it not being a horrible book by any means, there were a lot of things about it that I strongly disliked.
The first negative thing about Dangerous Girls that really stood out to me was how similar the story is to the Amanda Knox case. At the beginning of this year, I read Amanda Knox’s memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, and very much enjoyed learning about the case. So, with that book still semi-fresh in my mind, it was hard not to notice the glaring similarities between Anna and Amanda’s experiences.
The things I noticed that were almost the same between the two cases are these:
- The murder occurred in some sort of apartment/house where a bunch of friends were living together.
- The murder occurs overseas, where both girls are separated from their families and they have a huge struggle dealing with how different the legal/court system is from the US.
- One of the girls is accused of murdering someone who is apparently her friend (in Anna’s case, they were best friends, while in Amanda’s, they were more like friendly acquaintances who were roommates).
- Neither Anna or Amanda acted like they “should have” in the police station after the murder occurs. Amanda didn’t cry and is famously accused of having done the splits in a hallway, while Anna does basically the same thing, except she punches a vending machine while she’s not crying. In both cases, the media/police see these things as being “unfeeling” reactions that point to their guilt, while the girls claim it was because they were having trouble dealing with the stressful situation.
- They are both questioned relentlessly and rudely by mean police officers overnight, leading to them supplying false information and having trouble remembering events of the previous days.
- Anna and Amanda are both in a relationship at the time of the murder, and shortly afterwards caught in a photo smiling and kissing. This was one of the most noticeable similarities between the two, because that photo of Amanda is so well-known and is a big reason why a lot of people think that she had to be guilty (Anna’s photo is later used against her by the press and police in the exact same way).
- Both Amanda’s and Anna’s alibis for the time of the murder is that they were with their significant other.
- Both Anna and Amanda have to spend a long period of time in jail awaiting trial, with no bail.
- For both girls, all of the friends that they were living with completely turn on them when they realize that she is being accused, and even testify against her, stating “weird” and “bad” things about them.
- One of the biggest things used against both girls in their trials are photos/testimonials of them being risqué and inappropriately partying. The prosecution uses this information to call their characters into question.
- Their fingerprints were found on a knife that was claimed to be the murder weapon. Both girls defend themselves by saying that they’d previously used the knife for cooking.
- They are both accused of having killed their friend because of something sexual. Anna briefly wonders if the police will think she’d initiated a fucked-up sexual crime with Elise, while that’s actually what the police accused Amanda of. The case against Anna focuses on her possible anger at Elise for sleeping with Tate, but the prosecution also at times tries to imply that there was a “closer than friends” relationship between the two of them as well.
- In both cases, there were other suspects who would’ve made more sense to be the subject of the investigation, but the girls were seen as convenient by the local police. Because the murders were brutal and the victims were young girls from out of the country, the cases were automatically very high-profile, which made the police feel pressured to quickly hold someone accountable. Amanda and Anna were both immediately honed in on as being an ideal candidate for this, instead of the police focusing on the more likely suspects who were maybe harder to find and/or build up a case against. In both cases, this sort of causes the prosecution’s case to fall apart in court, as it becomes clear that they didn’t actively pursue other leads as much as they should have.
- They both end up being pronounced innocent and get to go home.
So…yeah. That’s, like, a lot of things. To the point where I’m not even sure if you can call Dangerous Girls just “fiction” anymore. It’s more like true crime fan fiction. The fact that it was very similar to Amanda’s story shouldn’t really affect whether or not it’s a successful book in general, because obviously there is some truly great fan fiction out there…but, because I wasn’t expecting to associate it so strongly with something else (the book does warn you that any resemblance to real-life events are merely coincidental, but I honestly have a lot of trouble believing that), the similarities became extremely distracting. I had a hard time accepting Dangerous Girls as it’s own unique work, because I was so caught up in noticing all the things that reminded me of Amanda’s case, and comparing the two girls in my mind. Especially because it’s not just like the events are a little alike — they’re verging on identical.
I was also incredibly disappointed by the fact that, pretty much from the very first couple of chapters, I had already figured out who the murderer was going to be. I don’t know if other readers felt like this, but to me, it was very obvious, almost ridiculously so — particularly because: (1) The title is Dangerous Girls. Just from that, I’ve already immediately assumed that, because the murdered party is a girl and the title is plural, that probably the killer is going to be a girl as well. And, out of all three girls it could be, Anna makes the most sense and is the only one without a concrete alibi. (2) This book is clearly going to go for the shock value. What could possibly be more shocking than if the murderer was the one person who’s set up to look totally and completely innocent from the get-go. I mean, it’s told from the murderer’s perspective. The idea’s ingenuity in itself makes the result obvious, because it would clearly be the biggest surprise. (3) It would be the biggest surprise specifically because every other character in the book is given motive for the murder. Anna is the only one whom we would assume would never want to kill Elise, while all the others are given a ton of shade throughout the book. Why would it be surprising if one of them did it? It wouldn’t. It would only be surprising if Anna did it, so therefore she has to be the murderer. (4) Since I’m already reading this book as if it’s basically a slightly different version of the Amanda Knox story, it was obvious to me that the author couldn’t not have Anna be the murderer. If Haas hadn’t reversed the conclusion of the real-life events…what would even be the reason for writing this book? It would literally just be a fictionalized version of something that everybody already knows about, even more so than it already is.
Even though I’d guessed the outcome to the mystery early on, I thought that it was really strange that: you never have an inkling that Anna is even remotely capable of murder. For almost the entire book, she comes off as extremely sympathetic. She was made so sympathetic that even I was starting to relate to her and feel bad for her…even though I knew she did it! It was confusing that, up until I’d say about 80–100 pages before the end, there are no clues in the book that point to her culpability (at least, I didn’t see any). There are a few little weird things that happen towards the end that make you start to question her, but up until that point, she’s painted as such an innocent person that it was hard for me to even believe in the end that she’d done it, because it seemed so far-fetched that somebody so apparently normal and relatable could be capable of cold-blooded revenge murder. To me, it made it feel like the author was only going for shock value…she wasn’t trying to actually create a realistic scenario here. The fact that Anna started to let her “true colors” show only when it was almost time to for the murderer to be revealed is just way too convenient. And the whole problem with the idea that real-life Amanda Knox did kill Meredith is because the story that the prosecution comes up with is utterly unbelievable, due to the nature of her character and just the overwhelming volume of evidence that points to her innocence. So flipping it around in this book as if it’s a “what if Amanda really was the killer?” retelling doesn’t work because it isn’t believable. It never was!
So, obviously, I have many problems with this book. But there are also a lot of things that I did like about Dangerous Girls, the biggest one being that it’s a very entertaining book to read. It was really hard to put it down, because I was so enthralled with the story. This type of case is intriguing — I couldn’t wait to see how everything was going to ultimately come into focus. And Haas’ writing was so addicting. Even though the book might not have been formulated the way I wanted it to be, the literal words themselves were great. The story is so easy to read, yet it’s very multi-layered and has a lot of depth.
I also loved Anna’s character and how easy it was to empathize with her. This book is so frightening partially because it’s scary to imagine yourself in that kind of situation — it’s terrifying to realize how easy it might be to find yourself become the false target of an investigation and end up spending years in a foreign prison when you were innocent all along.
But, overall, Dangerous Girls was a huge disappointment. Its flaws were so outrageous that it wasn’t possible for me to ignore them. I am interested in reading more of Haas’ work, but I think it’s going to be a while before I decide to pick up Dangerous Boys. I’m really worried that it will just be more of the same. I actually think that I would still recommend this book to some people — those of you who aren’t familiar with the Knox case. If I hadn’t been aware of that stuff, this would’ve been a totally different book for me. I think that I would’ve considered it very unique and might’ve even not guessed the ending early on. But if you did follow the Amanda Knox trial, you probably want to steer clear of Dangerous Girls unless you’re reading it merely for entertainment’s sake, because the similarities are just too hard to ignore once you start to see them.