I’ve heard some great things about Gilly Macmillan’s Burnt Paper Sky (aka, What She Knew) so was very keen to read her second novel, The Perfect Girl – a book about second chances.
The Perfect Girl
by Gilly Macmillan
Published by Piatkus
on March 3rd 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Several years ago, Zoe Maisey - child genius, musical sensation - caused the death of three teenagers.
She served her time. And now she's free.
Her story begins with her giving the performance of her life. By midnight, her mother is dead.
Zoe was just 14yrs old, unlicensed and drunk when she crashed a car causing the death of three teenagers. Her parents’ marriage imploded while she spent 18mths in a ‘secure unit’. So shortly after her release Zoe and Maria moved to Bristol and her mother fell in love and married again.
We meet Zoe a year or two on, complete with a step father (Chris), step-brother (Lucas) and baby half-sister. It’s her first public concert in what she refers to as her ‘Second Chance Life’.
We soon discover that Zoe’s mother Maria has kept Zoe’s history a secret from her new husband and step-son and from their new community in Bristol. Only Maria’s sister Tessa and her husband Richard know of Zoe’s past.
Fate, naturally, plays its hand and Zoe and Maria’s history rears its ugly head, leaving Maria to deal with the fallout from their past.
The story initially evolves from three points of view: Zoe’s, Tessa’s and Sam’s – the latter being Zoe’s attorney in her previous court appearances.
This is a compelling read and again it’s a novel which casts several threads for readers to pursue.
Lucas (who’s the same age as Zoe) is attempting to rebel against his strict father and pursue a love of film-making. The night of the concert he shares – with Zoe and Maria – a script about his own mother’s illness and death. And he’s eager they read it.
And then there’s Tessa and Richard whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. Tessa’s devoted to Maria’s family but struggles with the role her once-feisty sister is playing in her new marriage. And, instead of returning home to her husband after the concert, she spends the night with her lover… yet another secret which won’t stay buried in light of Maria’s death.
And all of this is set against the unfolding story of Zoe’s car accident and the events leading up to it.
I very much enjoyed this book but was a little confused around the timing of some of the book’s elements. I realised later I had no idea how long Maria and Chris had been married and wasn’t clear about the depth of Chris’s relationship with Zoe. It was almost as if they’d just met (though Chris and Maria had obviously been involved long enough to fall in love, get pregnant and have a baby).
However, I loved the characters and Tessa’s husband Robert, became a firm favourite as we moved into his head in the latter half of the novel. As an aside, I thought Sam’s role in the novel was kinda wasted and a bit distracting. I’m fairly sure the two roles he really played could have been eked out differently.
The parent-child relationship is obviously a key theme of the novel. Both Tessa and Richard comment on how Zoe’s parents pushed her relentlessly, not recognising that their brilliant daughter was bullied and unhappy. And now, Chris’s expectations of Lucas are also high. Before she and Lucas commence their concert performance, Zoe notes…
As usual, they’re wearing the too-bright expressions of parents who are disguising a level of ambition for their children that could choke you. p 8
There’s something very compelling about this story and it’s partially because of the beguiling Zoe. Macmillan does a great job of offering us a complex teenager. Bright beyond her years, she’s a long way from the naive 14yr old who once expected the best in people.
The delightful and surprisingly pragmatic Zoe also often reflects back on her time in the ‘Unit’ and it was obviously a time of growth and learning.
I think it’s fairly easy to guess at part of the backstory part-way through the novel. It kinda meant I knew what was coming but was more than happy to continue on the journey. There was however, a little twist (and punch – for good measure) near the end… and a satisfying, rather than happily-ever-after, conclusion.
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan was released in Australia by Hachette in early March 2016.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.