C S Lewis described Hamlet as a play in which the protagonist is given a task by a ghost. In a similar fashion, Alice King is compelled by the spirit of her erstwhile classmate, Tara, to ascertain the details surrounding her mysterious and violent death as the victim of her revengeful peers. Alice, as a member, albeit a reluctant one, of the gang that kidnapped and ‘tortured’ Tara, is sworn to silence and has her guilt compounded by the suicide of one of her co-conspirators, and the sensitively depicted deepening love for, and involvement with, the dead girl’s brother.
The tension between Alice’s perceived duty to the dead and protection of the living, including her recently widowed father, is captured in this novel’s title, which might also be seen to hint at the uneven nature of the writing. Alice’s strong, individualistic narrative voice is often at odds with the stereotypical portrayal of other adolescent girls, whom Clarke too often depicts as petty, cruel, fickle and manipulative. This lack of depth and subtlety is also reflected in Tara’s seeming sexual rapacity, and, as if to punish her for this trait, the sickening disposal of her body. Alice’s heroic and dramatic action, which ends the work, brings us back to ‘Hamlet’ and notions of ‘to thine own self be true’ – whatever the consequences. Nothing clichéd here.