On the very first day of senior year, Kendall Evans gets hit by a bathroom stall door, a stranger's fist, and the knowledge that all her former friends now hate her and are willing to do so very, very publicly. As for me, The Accidental Bad Girl hit me like a ton of bricks in the best possible way. This is a book for the 2018 girl, the girl who is sick and tired of being told what kind of girl she really is. What a truly badass debut novel by Maxine Kaplan.
Kendall's hellish senior year is happening in no small part because she slept with her best friend's ex-boyfriend at the end of junior year. Sounds like a fairly typical high school drama, right? Except that Grant Powers, said ex-boyfriend (who in my opinion is up there for douchiest guy in the whole book, and that includes the MURDEROUS DRUG DEALER), let the entire senior class walk in on them half-naked. The graduating seniors applaud Grant, and the rising seniors shun Kendall. The Accidental Bad Girl plays no games in regards to the impressive feminist messages throughout the novel. There's no point in trying to veil the unfairness of the double standard that is so prevalent in our society that says when a guy has sex, he's a winner, but when a girl has sex, she's a slut. Instead, The Accidental Bad Girl is upfront, razor-sharp, and unapologetic about what it is -- just like Kendall.
I'm pretty sure I've said this about several books I've reviewed lately (Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis comes to mind), but Kendall Evans is a heroine we need right now. I'm not saying I don't love classic heroines like Elizabeth Bennett or Jo March, but the fact is, the girls of today have to deal with a much different society and a much different set of problems. At one point in The Accidental Bad Girl, the drug-dealing antagonist, Mason Frye, bargains for Kendall's silence by threatening to send out a video of Kendall's new friend Simone Moody being raped. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, The Accidental Bad Girl reminds us that solidarity among women starts young -- plaid-skirt kind of young. I loved those moments between Kendall and her old crowd, like when Audrey posted her bail (and let Grant stay in jail! Yes, girl!), or when Ellie revealed that Gilly was the one who had hacked into Kendall's Facebook. May I also say that one of my favorite decisions Kaplan made throughout the book was NOT letting Gilly off the hook for that. In other novels, the heroine forgives the love interest in a heartbeat for whatever assortment of slights against her, but not Kendall Evans. I loved that. No matter why Gilly did what he did, he still invaded her privacy and lied about it. Such a great character decision for Kendall.
And I guess that is why I loved The Accidental Bad Girl so, so much. I'm sure the plot could stand on its own -- I can already see it being optioned for a movie for the New York car chases alone! -- but Kendall is such a shining light that she totally carried it. As I read the book, I realized there were quite a few standout lines (Kaplan's easy, effortless storytelling ability is also a major plus in The Accidental Bad Girl's favor), so I started bookmarking them on my Goodreads. One from Mason, toward the end of the book, really summed up what I loved about Kendall -- he says, "'You're a destroyer of worlds. You just started with your own." That's exactly it. Kendall is a firecracker in the truest sense. She walks into a situation andr realizes how unfair it is, and takes it upon herself to fix it. At one point, Kendall wonders if she and Simone will ever allow Gilly to be the knight in shining armor he so clearly wants to be, but the thing is, they just don't need one. Kendall is the hero of this story, no doubt about it, and in the end, she saves herself.
The Accidental Bad Girl comes out May 15, 2018 from Amulet Books (Abrams Books) in the US.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced readers' copy of The Accidental Bad Girl at the Texas Library Association Conference 2018. This has in no way affected my rating, review, or opinion of this book. Some of the links in this review are affiliate links.