The Plot Thickens: Bad Things Happen Here

Content warning: substance abuse; self-harm, suicidal ideation

Though I’m a voracious reader who likes to keep my TBR list varied with books from several genres, thrillers have never been my cup of tea. This is most unfortunate given my love for mysteries and the frequency with which most mysteries published today are tied to the genre. Yet, in Rebecca Barrow’s Bad Things Happen Here—a newly released YA novel—the storytelling is what I’ve found elusive in the contemporary fiction space: a murder mystery with only the barest reference to what I typically characterize as a thriller.

Parris is an island town off the U.S. coast whose obscurity in the public eye is the point. Consisting of a community largely made of wealthy families who reside there year long for the majority of their lives, seclusion is an intrinsic value of this society that brims with pride at their involvement in the latest charity events while holding each other at arm’s length. It is no surprise then that a community that avoids public scrutiny from those outside the bubble harbor some major secrets, the greatest one being the unexplained deaths of young women from the island every few years. Luca Laine Thomas, a biracial 17 year old who has lived in Parris her entire life, has lived in fear of the curse associated with these deaths from a young age and feels a brush of fate when her best friend, Polly, is found dead under mysterious circumstances three years prior to the events in Bad Things Happen Here. Still reeling from this loss, Luca takes comfort in being her older sister’s shadow—until she falls victim to the curse too. Spiraling from these events and the entry of a love interest while still closeted, Luca can’t help but feel the curse is focused on her in punishment for the secrets she holds. Desperate to escape the curse’s grasp she resolves to solve the curse herself, regardless of the consequences. 

This is a good YA murder mystery book for those new to the genre who are not as into the dramatics of works such as Pretty Little Liars or One of Us Is Lying. Like any property that hints that what glitters isn’t always gold, Bad Things Happen Here highlights that attaining the capitalist dream and living among these peers in isolation does not, in fact, isolate you from issues more frequently ascribed to more populated forms of living. I was actually quite taken by the theme that in a world where tradition dictates the same limited cycles continue generation after generation, the most marginalized among them—in this case, young women—will be the sacrifice to maintain the status quo.