Final Girls by Riley Sager is a new release horror/thriller/mystery novel, and it's basically a slasher movie in book form. So of course Kelli and Emily were fully on board to read and review this book, especially because Halloween exists, and it's today. So Happy Halloween, Book Squad Goalies! Read on for our thoughts on this here book.
Kelli: So, for spooky reasons, we thought it would be fun to read some horror fiction this month and have a little chat with each other about it. Emily, you suggested the book Final Girls by Riley Sager - a book which boasts praise from the one and only Stephen King on its cover.
Emily: Yeah but I feel like those are a dime a dozen really. Stephen King has a lot to say about a lot of people.
Kelli: Where does he find the time to do so much reading?
Emily: He is a speed reader and writer.
Kelli: I want that.
Emily: Same. Though I read this book in two days, so maybe I'm on my way.
Kelli: Anyway, Final Girls follows Quincy, a woman who is the lone survivor of a brutal attack on her group of college friends at a cabin in the woods. The book takes place... ten years after that? I think?
Emily: Something like that, yes.
Kelli: The concept is that there are three different women - Quincy, Lisa, and Sam - who all survived similar attacks roughly ten years apart from one another, and the three of them have been labeled 'the Final Girls' by the news media, based on the horror trope we all know and love. I have a hard time believing the news media would actually employ film trope terminology, but whatever.
Emily: Also the author doesn't do a very good job of crediting Carol J. Clover, the person who came up with the trope. Or explaining what the trope is really about, which was disappointing for me because I'm a theory nerd. I'm just here to trash this novel. I'm sorry if I'm jumping the gun.
Kelli: Yeah. And we're both familiar with it, but I'm sure a lot of the people reading this book aren't.
Emily: So you wrote a paper about the Final Girls trope, which makes you an expert.
Kelli: Yes, I'm an expert. Definitely.
Emily: So for people who don't know what it is, would you care to briefly give us a run down?
Kelli: So. Film scholar Carol J. Clover coined the term 'Final Girl' in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The Final Girl is exactly what it sounds like -- she is the last person left standing in the horror film (particularly in slasher films, but the trope can be seen in a variety of others, including Alien, which I just watched for the first time, lols).
Emily: And you loved Alien.
Kelli: I loved it so much.
Emily: Also I would argue Alien is basically a slasher film with an alien in it.
Kelli: That's true. It's a kill-off-one-by-one film.
Emily: Yes, with jump scares and the best cat ever.
Kelli: JONESY <3
Kelli: Anyway, this trope is super interesting because you can argue for or against the 'feminist' nature of it. We want to think it's awesome that the last person standing in a film is a woman, that she is the powerful survivor who will brandish the weapon and kill the killer, but it's also important to consider that the final girl is often put on screen by men, for men. Not to mention the fact that more often than not, even if she has survived, she has to suffer a ridiculous amount. Punished, essentially, for her curiosity.
Emily: She doesn't just show up at the end like, "Oh man, what happened here??" She's often covered in blood and driven to hysterics, like Quincy is at the end of her ordeal.
Kelli: Yes. Like all of this suffering is what has made her capable of surviving.
Emily: So yeah, the idea of this novel is that the author is going to play with that trope, looking at what happens AFTER a girl is a Final Girl. So should we get into the book now?
Kelli: Yes. So, Emily. Why did you hate this book?
Emily: Well, first of all, it's badly written. Whenever a book says something is a character's "jam," I think to myself, "no, that should not be written in a book." Also I'm very tired of the hyper trendy first person present tense, because most people can't write it well.
Kelli: Yeah, more often than not it comes off kind of gimmicky.
Emily: But like, we knew going into this that this was going to be a book that was essentially a trashy slasher movie made into a novel. So maybe the sloppy writing shouldn't come as a surprise. Or it didn't really.
Kelli: Yeah. I wasn't expecting anything ground-breaking when it came to the writing style. What I DID expect was that this book would be... interesting? In any way? At all?
Emily: Fast paced? Scary maybe at parts? Mysterious? That the characters would be somewhat interesting?
Kelli: Perhaps it would challenge the trope? All it did was perpetuate.
Emily: YES, I was hoping it would challenge the trope. I left this book wondering, why did this person write about Final Girls? When they have nothing new to say about it?
Kelli: Right. It was essentially an ode to the concept rather than an exploration of the concept.
Emily: Which, I mean, I'd rather just WATCH A SLASHER MARATHON if I want a homage.
Emily: So basic plot summary. Lisa dies at the beginning of the book in what is presumed to be a suicide at first. And Sam suddenly pops up out of nowhere and infiltrates Quincy's seemingly perfect life Quincy is our main character. She lives in a big fancy Manhattan apartment with her lawyer boyfriend. Her job is a baking blog. Like for real. She just bakes and takes pictures of her food. And she's extremely addicted to sugar.
Kelli: And Xanax. She has a serious Xanax addiction.
Emily: Oh right. What thriller would be complete without a woman with a pill popping problem?
Kelli: The author just has to let us know that she COULD be crazy.
Emily: Oh also she likes to steal things and hide them in a locked drawer. It's how she deals with her trauma. Also she can't remember what happened the night all her friends got killed and she became the Final Girl. So that's basically the premise? Oh and of course there's a love triangle.
Kelli: But aside from all of this, Quincy seems to have no definitive personality traits. Yeah so basically they're trying to figure out what happened to Lisa - why she killed herself. Are we spoiling?
Emily: I mean, can we fully trash this book without spoiling? SPOILERS AHEAD. STOP NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW.
Kelli: Yeah, it seems important to talk about all the dumb twists.
Emily: Which are for the most part fairly predictable and super dumb. Twist #1 - Sam has changed her name.
Kelli: Twist #2 - Lisa didn't kill herself - she was MuRdEred.
Emily: Oh and apparently all of the evidence was left in the house for the whole week or however long it took them to figure that out, so they were able to go back to the house and be like *GASP* HER WINE WAS DRUGGED! BECAUSE THEY LEFT EVERYTHING! That seemed weird. Am I wrong?
Kelli: You're not wrong.
Emily: Twist #3 - They start assaulting people in the park and Quincy nearly kills a guy. Wait is that a twist or just a dumb plot point?
Kelli: Just a dumb plot point.
Emily: Well it's worth mentioning because A) it's ridiculous, and B) it gives Quincy the notion that she may be DANGEROUS, and she might not be able to trust HERSELF!
Kelli: I would also like to point out that much like every other novel with a 'crazy girl,' Quincy has multiple blackouts.
Emily: Oh yes of course.
Kelli: Obviously, because she's crazy enough to take Xanax.
Emily: Hello, Girl on the Train. Looking at you.
Kelli: Hello, Couple Next Door.
Emily: Hello literally every shitty thriller I've ever read.
Kelli: So it goes on for quite a while without any twists. Throughout the book, we get flashbacks of the night at Pine Cottage - the place where Quincy's friends were murdered - and I would say that the next big twist comes as that night starts to unravel in a way that I actually did find fun to read about, even if it was stupid. Too bad those chapters make up like 10% of the book.
Emily: Yes, okay, so the flashbacks were the most exciting part of the story, and I did really get into those parts in the same way I get into slasher movies. Like it was a little creepy and ominous, and I wanted to know how it was going to all go down. But yeah the whole rest of the book kept getting in the way.
Kelli: Right. So in the flashbacks, Quincy is with her college boyfriend, her best friend, and three of their other friends. The whole night, Janelle, the best friend, is trying to egg Quincy on, because Quincy is supposed to be losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Craig. They are all coming back from a hike when they discover this random dude trying to get into their cabin. He seems very bizarre and nobody wants him there, but Janelle is like, 'he should stay and party with us!' This is the man who we know, or think we know, to be the killer. Because in Quincy's memory, he is. So he's like chilling in the background being weird, and meanwhile, Craig and Quincy sneak off to have sex. At which point Quincy decides she doesn't want to, Craig basically starts trying to rape her and then stops when she forcibly pushes him off of her. Quincy gets sad and cries for a while, then she goes out into the living room and nobody knows where Janelle and Craig are, so she goes out into the woods and finds them conveniently fucking on a rock.
Emily: So hot. And apparently that rock has seen action before But more on that later maybe? Or maybe not. Anyway. It's a sexy rock.
Kelli: So yeah, Quincy is like oMG U GUYS SUCK, which - another horror trope related to the Final Girl is the slutty best friend. And another thing that really pissed me off about this is that yet again, the slutty best friend trope (AND THE VIRGINAL CURIOUS FINAL GIRL) are both used in the same way they've been used ten thousand times before, bringing, yet again, nothing new or interesting to the idea.
Emily: Right, there was no push back on that. It just became reality.
Kelli: Yep. Anyway Quincy runs back inside and promptly fucks the weird nerd who we assume is the killer - who we know has escaped from the also conveniently-placed mental hospital down the road. She doesn't know this at the time, but we do.
Emily: Why would you stay in a cabin right next to a mental hospital though? Those kids were asking for it.
Kelli: Discounted rates?
Emily: Still nope. So we keep building and building to the actual killing. We see Quincy pick up a knife and at this point we know in the current time line that the police don't believe her story (mostly because her story is "I don't remember") so then we're supposed to be like... omg did she do it??? Did you ever think for a MOMENT that she did it?
Kelli: I thought maybe she did it. Until it started to really make us think that she did it, at which point I knew she didn't do it. Like, I thought she did it at the beginning.
Emily: I was pretty certain Sam was involved from the very beginning because she was the Queen of Shady.
Kelli: Yeah, definitely. We find out that Sam is not just a fake name, but not even THE REAL SAM. Twist #17: SHE WAS ACTUALLY IN THE INSANE ASYLUM!!!
Emily: OMG!!! So then we're like okay SAM DEFINITELY KILLED EVERYTHING! IN THE WORLD!
Kelli: SHE'S THE KILLA!
Emily: SHE KILLED JFK! SHE KILLED EVERYONE!
Kelli: I'm shook.
Emily: Me too.
Kelli: But guess what? She didn't do it.
Emily: Whaaaat? How is it possible?
Kelli: WHO DID IT EMILY? WHO?
Emily: The dude we haven't even talked about yet!
Emily: DA POLICE OFFICER WHO SAVED HER!
Kelli: Which, honestly, whenever I read "Coop" I just think of Wet Hot American Summer.
Emily: I just got so annoyed that she kept saying his name in dialogue: "I just don't know what to do, Coop. Jeff isn't like that, Coop. I put a homeless dude in a coma, Coop."
Kelli: Ugh, I hate that shit. I say people's names when I'm talking about them or trying to get their attention. Not as random emphasis points in a sentence.
Emily: Yes. It sounds fake and annoying. I'm not even sure I get WHY Coop killed these people.
Kelli: Nope, it makes no sense. Apparently he just liked killing stuff. But then he fell in love with her because she looked like she might kill stuff.
Emily: But like nothing before would lead you to believe it was him.
Kelli: Which was why it was SUCH A TWIST, EMILY! DUH!
Emily: Okay, no. No that's NOT HOW TWISTS WORK. Let's talk about GOOD TWISTS. Just for the fuck of it, I'm going to tap into one of the greatest movies of ALL TIME, The Visit, directed by the King of Twists M. Shyamalan. I know a lot of his movies (most of his movies) are crap. I know I could go with The Sixth Sense here, but why? You all know that one. I'm trying to give you fresh content. Granted, I guessed the twist in The Visit before it happened, but it was STILL a good twist, because all the clues are there. And if you missed it the first time, you can go back and look and be like, "I can't believe I missed that! What a quality film this is to put all these clues in here and yet still surprise me." I think Final Girls was TRYING to do this, but the clues were always either TOO obvious or nonexistent.
Kelli: Yes, exactly. The "twist" at the end of this book made literally no sense, for a VARIETY of reasons. Like, this guy is a cop. How has he killed multiple people and not ever even been under suspicion by anyone at all?
Emily: Also he's really close to Quincy, and yet somehow he had a relationship with Lisa without her knowing it?
Kelli: Right. And is a deranged psychopath, but acted totally cool about it for 10 years and planned to continue doing so except for the fact that all this blew up. He was like I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU, QUINCY! And it all spiraled from there, but like... why didn't this happen before?
Emily: Yeah like... she's basically engaged and you've been totally chill.
Kelli: Other than to be like, "IDK about that Jeff guy." Basically, it seemed like Coop was literally only a character so that he could then be the twist. And that's the problem with this book as a whole, I think -- it says nothing, because it's far too focused on trying to lead us towards an idea and then switch it on us, leaving no room to consider all of the implications of the genre, despite being self-aware. Like, if this was just a slasher book, okay. But it's a book specifically referencing a trope.
Emily: So true. This novel was self-aware on the most basic of levels. Yes this is a trope, watch me use the trope.
Kelli: You pointed something out to me that I didn't know. Which is...
Emily: Riley Sager is a pen name for a MALE author named Todd Ritter. How does this make us feel? I know the name Riley could go either way, but I feel like the choice of pen name was specifically ambiguous to let readers assume the author of the novel is female.
Kelli: Yes. We should also point out that at no point in the bio is there a pronoun. Which is fine if you don't use pronouns -- but I feel like this was an intentional choice for readership. And it's particularly infuriating because like, yes, women have been known to use pen names to present as male -- because they are often encouraged to and/or forced to by their publishers. To sell more books.
Emily: Well I think the majority of people who are reading thrillers are women, and especially because these are stories that usually feature female main characters and women in a place of victimhood and/or psychological dread, it can be sort of weird when a man chooses to tell this story. If it's not handled correctly.
Kelli: Right. And it seems really unfair to try to trick readers into believing that this is written by a woman - almost like it's offering women a false sense of security. Like, comfort in knowing that it isn't a man presenting us with all of this horrifying scenarios, but another woman.
Emily: Right, like someone who can commiserate. Rather than someone pointing out the other side's vulnerability. I also found some of the gendered observations totally baseless. Like when she says most True Crime blogs are run by men because women have better things to do with their time. No. False.
Kelli: OMG. I literally bookmarked that page.
Emily: Yeah, that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
Kelli: Like, it is KNOWN that a shit ton of blogs/podcasts/writing about true crime is done by women. It's wildly popular right now. Like come on. Do five seconds of research.
Emily: Also the way he describes sex from a female perspective.
Kelli: Omg. IT HURTS BUT FEELS GOOD AT THE SAME TIME.
Emily: YEAH NO WHAT.
Kelli: Like... Nah buddy. False. Maybe in certain situations? But usually if it hurts it just... hurts.
Emily: If it hurts, please tell him you need foreplay.
Kelli: Or a position change. For the love of God. I mean, some women do genuinely experience pain every time, but that's not optimal. And the fact that these characters seem to think it's normal and good is... a problem.
Emily: Any other weird dude things about this novel?
Kelli: I did find it interesting how often the author described the clothing of the characters, as if that sort of writing would appeal to women? Like, "I put on a blue v-neck, jeans, and flats" or something. Like... I don't fucking care.
Emily: And the baking. So much baking. That was such a Rom Com job, running a baking blog.
Kelli: I know. It didn't even sound like a good blog. You can't come up with a more creative name than Quincy's Sweets?
Emily: Also she struck me as the type of baker who puts TOO MUCH SUGAR in everything. She was constantly eating sugar.
Kelli: Yeah at one point she was complaining about how the lemon and blueberry muffins weren't sugary enough so they tasted like paste. And I was like, um... blueberries are sweet though?
Emily: Yeah I was like, SOUNDS DELICIOUS TO ME!
Kelli: So was there anything GOOD about this novel?
Emily: Yeah so like I said, I did enjoy reading the flashbacks. I really looked forward to those chapters.
Kelli: Me too. Why do you think those worked so well?
Emily: Well I think if you're going for homage rather than critique, the flashbacks were serving that purpose better. All of the characters in the contemporary plotline were really difficult to care about. Like please give me a party in a cabin any day over pages of baking descriptions and coffee dates. I think it goes back to the rom com thing I said. The contemporary story was almost more rom com than horror.
Kelli: Totally. Rom com shot through with weak suspense. Also, the flashbacks aren't from Quincy's perspective, which I think helps. Because Quincy is annoying.
Emily: Yeah she suuuuucked. She was such an idiot.
Kelli: She manages to be both incredibly self-loathing and also totally unwilling to try to fix herself. She ignores everything that is wrong and then is like "I hate that I ignore everything that's wrong!"
Emily: Yep. I think maybe "Riley Sager" should have stuck with 3rd person. Because he was having trouble examining the character critically while also being in her head.
Kelli: Yep. So, overall... not high on this book. Not at all.
Emily: Nope. It was so bad. But almost so bad that I enjoyed hating it.
Kelli: Almost, but it was also kind of boring.
Emily: Yes. So... I ended up giving this two stars simply because of the cabin scenes.
Kelli: Yeah, I think I'm probably going to do the same.
Emily: Well hooray! That was our Halloween review of Final Girls by Riley Sager. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Kelli: Yeah, sorry that we hated it.
Emily: I'm not sorry. You can deal.
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.