A delightfully sinister mystery with a fairytale twist
Laura Pohl The Grimrose Girls was first described as Pretty little Liars meets Once upon a time, which is actually quite precise and likely to attract a lot of curious fans. But to be fair, while I liked both of these properties a lot, the comparison does Pohl’s book a disservice – The Grimrose Girls is a thriller that turns the pages much more than it first appears.
Yes, it’s a fairytale tale, sort of. And yes, it’s a teen-focused murder mystery in which a group of girls must survive a deadly killer. Again, sort of. But Pohl skillfully combines the two into something fresh and new – and nothing you’d expect.
The Grimrose Girls follows the story of Ella, Yuki and Rory, three friends of the prestigious Grimrose Academy for elite students in the Swiss Alps. The fourth member of their group of friends, the vibrant redhead Ariane, has died under mysterious circumstances early in their senior year. While the school is convinced her drowning death was suicide, her friends aren’t so sure.
Along with new student Nani – who moves into Ari’s former dorm – the girls begin investigating the stories of the strange book, and they discover more mysterious deaths in Grimrose, just as other bodies begin to appear, all found in scenes that recreate famous fairytale tropes. (A girl is found dead in a destroyed bowl of porridge, another is beheaded by a wire hanging from a juniper. A third is murdered alongside her grandmother by a “wolf” boyfriend.)
But it’s a fairytale tale that’s the furthest thing from a carbon copy of the original tales, and though its central characters all correspond to genre-specific famous characters (Snow White Cinderella, La Belle au sleeping wood, The Little Mermaid, etc.), each girl’s story is uniquely their own. The Grimrose Girls breathes new life into the familiar rhythms of these familiar tales, using their darkest recesses to explore contemporary issues of friendship, loss and identity alongside the mystery of a magical book and a curse that can lead all students to unfortunate ends.
The novel is effortlessly diverse, featuring major characters from multiple races, ethnicities, sexualities, and gender identities. There are both queer and heterosexual romances, and one of the main groups identifies as asexual. Other characters struggle with a variety of health and disability issues, from anxiety to chronic pain. And, perhaps most importantly, the friendship between our grassroots girl group feels lived-in and genuine, the kind of relationships you may never be able to form until at this point in your life, when you are learning – and accept – the people you will become, together.
While the novel’s propelling mystery ends with an unexpected climax – the story is not over and there are still many questions to be answered in the sequel. (Which definitely hit the top half of my Most Anticipated List for next year.) I can’t wait to see where this story takes these girls next, and what really lurks in the shadows – and the past. – from Grimrose Academie.
The Grimrose Girls is available now. Let us know if you plan to take a look!