The Society for Soulless Girls is a young adult thriller that retells the Jekyll and Hyde story at an exclusive university for the arts with a dark past. The infamous North Tower at Carvell College of Arts is where four students died ten years ago and Carvell closed, but now it is reopening, and Lottie, hockey-playing English student with a desire to investigate what really happened at Carvell, and Alice, goth Philosophy student with some anger issues, are starting there and find themselves put together as roommates, albeit ones with little in common. When Alice finds a book containing a soul-splitting ritual in the library, the cycle seems to be starting again, and Lottie and Alice must get over their differences to try and uncover the truth.
This book is very much aimed at the dark academia market (it even has a character who dresses like the aesthetic, quotes philosophy and literature, and at one point mentions The Secret History), with a focus on actual gothic, supernatural goings on as well as the prestigious yet dark education environment. The perspective of the narrative is split between Lottie and Alice, as their encounters with the secrets of Carvell combine with an enemies-to-lovers romance, and the pace is good, with plenty going on. The tone was a little darker than I expected, which pleasantly surprised me (I hadn’t realised the characters would be 18/19 and starting uni, rather than at school, which again was a pleasant surprise), though some of the writing was less up my street (one character spends an entire scene talking in memes).
The engagement with Jekyll and Hyde was very interesting, with the book really focused on female anger and society’s expectations of outlets for rage, and hinting towards ideas of gothic as ways of expressing repressed and difficult things in society. I liked the slightly sinister reputation of the gothic literature course, which brought a nice side of The Secret History-esque ‘what if you studied something theoretical but for real life’ though wasn’t as prevalent in the book as you might expect. The quoting of philosophy and literature throughout made it ideal for pretentious teenagers (I’m sure I would’ve liked it when I was younger for that) who the genre is clearly ideal for.
Combining a mystery, a romance, and a look at how female rage is treated, The Society for Soulless Girls is a fun thriller that really taps into a bunch of things that I think will appeal to the target audience. It’s one of those young adult books that is perfect for getting audiences intrigued by some of the intellectual and literary ideas within whilst also being genuinely entertaining to read and with enough darkness to at least keep it interesting.
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