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BOOK REVIEW: Plain Bad Heroines

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Publication Date: October 20, 2020

I typically would write out my own synopsis of a book I am reviewing, but I have been terrible at summarizing a book in a way that actually would make you want to pick it up lol, so here is the Goodreads summary:

TW: death by wasps, suicide, minor homophobia/fatphobia

PLOT: Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

A story within a story within a story and featuring black-and-white period illustrations, Plain Bad Heroines is a devilishly haunting, modern masterwork of metafiction that manages to combine the ghostly sensibility of Sarah Waters with the dark imagination of Marisha Pessl and the sharp humor and incisive social commentary of Curtis Sittenfeld into one laugh-out-loud funny, spellbinding, and wonderfully luxuriant read


  • I loved how this novel covered two storylines.
    • Danforth does this so well, both stories are rich and complex and creepy
    • I did like the modern story better, but I LOVE how they were interwoven
  • This book is smart! I’ve never read anything by Danforth before, but wow she can write! The humor, the annotations, the ways the stories connect is all so clever
    • This is honestly a book that I see myself coming back to and getting even more out of the story than I did the first time
  • The way that Danforth mixes humor and horror. This novel is funny and scary. I was LOLing and then in the next chapter like….what is happening.
  • I liked our main characters. They are all complex and complicated women with some depth.
  • This is super sapphic. Almost everyone is part of the LGBTQ+ community. I would say everyone is, but there are a few side characters that I am not 100% sure about. All the main characters are queer though.
  • The illustrations are eerie and such a fun addition. I am not sure if I’ve ever read an adult novel with illustrations and I loved it.


  • Look I had to add another category because this comment is just a comment rather than praise or a critique.
    • This book is too smart for me
    • Or least too smart for my brain right now
    • Like I can tell Danforth is KILLING it with being clever, but I am too tired to pick up every little clue that she leaves.
    • Also, I read this over a very long time period so I definitely missed stuff aka forgot characters that were introduced earlier


  • It did not grip me the way I wanted it to. I literally set this book down at page ~400 and then did not pick it up for weeks.
    • This is in part, due to my reading headspace where I basically only want to read super light books & the fact that I fell into a reading slump during that break.
  • Parts of the plot where a little slow for me. Which I normally like, but I like my slow plots with tons of character development which we did not get.
    • I also was not the biggest fan of the ending, it just was a bit anticlimactic for me.

Overall, I was very impressed with this novel and recommend it! I just don’t think I read this at the exact right time for me.

4/5 stars

*Thank you to the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review*

xoxo, Tree

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