Book Review | Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Throwaway Girls

Title: Throwaway Girls
Author: Andrea Contos
Pages: 392


Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

My Review:

At 17, Caroline Lawson is enduring her last few months of senior year at an exclusive prep school, impatient for graduation and a chance to escape her controlling parents. Then her best friend, Madison, disappears. When the police try to pin the disappearance on Caroline’s favourite teacher, Caroline risks everything to figure out what really happened. But Madison isn’t the only girl who has gone missing, and the deeper Caroline digs, the darker the secrets she uncovers, her own included.

Andrea Contos’s debut novel, Throwaway Girls, is not only a dark, complex and suspenseful mystery; it also explores important issues with depth and sympathy. Caroline is bisexual, and though her friends hardly shrug at her sexual orientation, her mother refuses to accept her daughter. Her parent’s response to Caroline’s “coming out” was to send her to “conversion camp” where Caroline was trapped until she escaped, injured and betrayed. In the two years since then, Caroline has withdrawn into aloof secrecy until she can leave home.

The novel also looks unflinchingly at privilege and social class. When Caroline finds her first love, Willa, in social circles in which she would normally never move, she becomes aware of a deeply unjust double standard. St Francis Preparatory School, where Caroline and her friends are groomed for success, is its own little world. Until she breaks free of that world, Caroline never sees its privileged narrowness: “It’s like walking a tightrope — it only works if you don’t look down.” When she discovers that the disappearance of at least three other girls has never been properly investigated, Caroline is determined to show that the lives of these “throwaway girls” mattered. Madison is too important to ignore, but the police seem determined to prove their assumptions and ignore Caroline’s evidence.

This was an intense read. From the moment we meet Caroline we are drawn into her quest not just for her missing friend Madison, but for herself after her girlfriend Willa has left her. Caroline was already broken and barely hanging on, and then her world truly comes unraveling.

At first I struggled to immerse myself in this fictional world. The narration felt disjointed and it was like I had been thrown into the middle of something and had to figure out what was going on. And here were times that Caroline didn’t feel fully believable as a teenager, and other times she was such a teenager – so chaotic and dramatic and stubborn. As the book picked up, it was fast-paced, intriguing, and I found myself thinking about it even when I wasn’t reading it.

And the pieces all began coming together. I also felt Caroline’s heartbreak over Willa, and her mistrust of her parents and the police. And the story behind that was really heartbreaking. I found the characters compelling and I genuinely found myself caring what happened to them; worrying what would happen to them with each twist and turn. And while I figured out the ending – I almost always do – it was a huge satisfaction to know that I was right all along. And I think there is enough mystery to keep a lot of readers guessing up until the very end.

Throwaway Girls uses some really great storytelling devices to keep you invested. There are chapters told by an unknown narrator that keep you wondering. There are twists and turns. And there is the truth about missing girls and powerful men and how our society treats both of them. This is the type of novel that entertains and enlightens, pulling back the curtain on serious issues and asking us as readers to think deeply about them. And think about them you will, for a very long time.

Throwaway Girls is written with great attention to language. Metaphors and vivid imagery evoke a vibrant picture of the two sides of Caroline’s world. Scenes of passion are detailed but sensitively drawn, and Caroline’s inner torment is clear. The narrative structure is also interesting, if at times confusing. Chapters begin in media res and only gradually reveal a backstory to link with previous action. This departure from a linear narrative is sometimes disorienting, keeping the reader off balance. Occasionally it interferes with narrative momentum, but the fragmentary revelations reflect the gradual awareness of the shocking truth. Curious shifts in voice and point of view add to the mystery.

This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.

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