Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager (Spoiler-Free!)

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Final Girls, by Riley Sager, was the book I chose for my July book from Book of the Month Club. I was really drawn in by the mysterious, twisty plot, and the sort of slasher-esque back story, and was hoping it would really throw me for a loop. Don’t worry, though—I won’t spoil any of the major surprises here, so if you haven’t read it yet, you’re safe to read on!

Final Girls is a psychological thriller that tells the tale of Quincy Carpenter, who survived a mass murder when she was a college student staying at a cabin in the woods with a group of her friends. As the only one left alive after a media-sensationalized blood bath, Quincy gets dubbed a “final girl”, in reference to the well-known horror movie staple. The media groups her with two other young women who experienced similar situations, Lisa and Sam.

Quinn, as she is called now, has no interest in being known as a final girl or letting her past trauma define her. She is living in a beautiful apartment in New York City with her lawyer boyfriend and running a successful baking blog, and though she struggles with anxiety, she is determined to put it all behind her. Her only link to the past is her occasional correspondence with Officer Cooper, the cop who rescued her after she fled through the woods from the killer.

But, of course, if everything kept going swimmingly, we wouldn’t have a story, would we? Lisa, one of the other final girls, is discovered dead in her home from what appears to be suicide…at first. Shortly thereafter, the second final girl, Sam, decides she finally wants to meet Quinn and “see if she’s okay”, and ends up staying with Quinn in her apartment. But after a little while, Quinn begins to wonder if Sam’s motives are exactly what she says they are, and if there might have been more to the horror she experienced than she initially thought.

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I really enjoyed the character development in this book, and despite never having been through anything like what Quinn went through, I found her to be a very relatable character. The way she talks about her anxiety and how she deals with it is, for the most part, very realistic and honest, which helped me get attached to the character and understand her struggles, and empathize with how she was trying to stay strong and keep moving through life despite what she’s been through. I also found the way she talked about her blog and her work really relatable.

“I’m a blogger?” It comes out sounding like a question. Like I have no clue what I am. “I have a website. It’s called Quincy’s Sweets.”

Sam offers a polite half smile. “Cute name. Is it, like, kittens and shit?”

I also really liked the character of Sam when she shows up, even though she’s far from perfect—or perhaps because she’s far from perfect. I really loved how rough around the edges she was and how she just spoke her mind and didn’t seem to care what people thought of her. In my eyes, she was a good example of a “flawed” character, who had a lot going on but was still likable and redeemable.

Being a psychological thriller, there were quite a few twists and turns in this book, and I think it does a successful job of keeping you on your toes and keeping you guessing about what is going to happen next. I believe there’s a scale when it comes to plot twists, ranging from “most predictable/cliché plot twist possible” on one end to “so ludicrous there’s absolutely nothing in the story to back that up and it seems like it was tossed in for sheer shock value” on the other. In my opinion, the best twists fall somewhere in the middle.

For a hot second, I honestly thought that this book was going in hard for the “most predictable” end of the scale, but luckily, I was pleasantly surprised when the author threw a few more twists my way. I would put the “big reveal” or the most significant twist in the book somewhere between the middle of the scale and the “shock value” end of the scale. It definitely wasn’t the twist I was expecting, and there wasn’t too much to give it away or make it too obvious, but I did get a little bit of a sense that the author went for it primarily because of shock value, and perhaps there would have been some more interesting—if a bit less surprising—routes to take it in. However, I can totally see why he chose to write the twists that he did, and it wasn’t completely unsupported. Once you go back and look at other things in the novel, there were a few clues pointing in that direction. I think this book will do a decent job of keeping most readers on their toes, so to speak.

Part of what made the characters and the twists work within the story was the quality of the writing for the majority of the novel. For the most part, I thought the writing was very good, and the author included a lot of realistic details which really served to bring the story to life for me. For example, Quinn’s habit of taking her Xanax only with grape soda, the way she thinks and talks about how she feels, and her observations of how strangers act around in her in public all felt very real and genuine to me.

“I’m fine,” I say, clearly not. My body feels hollow, as if my insides have been scraped out by the ice-cream scoop I use to drop batter into muffin tins.

That being said, though, there were some bits of the writing which I really disliked, ranging from little things that bugged me to bigger issues with the characters. While most of the details were very well done, there were a few moments when details seemed so off that they were downright distracting from the story. Of course, this could just be me nitpicking, or me getting distracted and focused in on weird things—which I admit, I do from time to time. But sometimes when an author drops in a detail that catches you just so off guard, it can draw you away from the story because you’re still flipping it over in your mind again and again.

For example:

Sam arches one of her brows. Both have been drawn on with black eyeliner, and the movement exposes a few downy hairs beneath the dark smudge.

What? No. That’s not how eyebrows work. When people draw on their eyebrows, they draw over the existing hairs. And even if they didn’t, if you lift your brow, that whole area of your face moves. You can’t move just the forehead where your eyebrow is drawn and not the skin right below it. I just…what?

I know this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but Sam moving her drawn on eyebrows and leaving the real hair eyebrows exposed beneath it is mentioned multiple times throughout the book, and it is just such an off the mark detail that it really got me distracted from whatever the subject at hand was whenever it was mentioned.

Additionally, while most of the book flowed smoothly and seemed real, there were a few scenes now and then that seemed a bit over the top or overdone. Like when Sam convinces Quinn to go to Central Park so that they can try to get mugged, or fight off a mugger who is trying to attack another girl, for absolutely no reason. It seemed like an over the top way to show that Sam is edgy and struggling to deal with what happened to her, but it didn’t actually make any sense to me. Even when able to suspend by disbelief over Sam doing it, it was hard for me to believe that Quinn would go along with it for, again, really no reason at all. It just didn’t flow as well as the rest of the book. That could just be me, though.

Slight shortcomings aside, I mostly really enjoyed this book. The characters are very well done, and even when there were characters I didn’t personally like (*cough* Jeff *cough*), I could admire that they were well-written and brought to life very effectively on the page. If you like books with twists and turns, I think the plot twists and constantly moving mystery in this book would be something you’d really have a good time with!

Overall, I’d rate the book four out of five stars, and part of me actually hopes it gets made into a movie, as I think this would make a great film!

Has anyone else read Final Girls? What did you think? Did you see the ending coming? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3

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