Reviews for The bad ones

Publishers Weekly
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Four seemingly unconnected individuals vanish from suburban Illinois in this sinuous, horror-tinged YA fantasy from Albert (Our Crooked Hearts). Teen best friends Nora Powell and Becca Cross have been estranged for months, but when Becca texts “I love you” and nothing else late one night, Nora runs over to check on her. She returns home angry after waiting for hours on the Cross family’s porch, where she found an abandoned drink and Becca’s phone. Upon learning that three people went missing overnight, Nora panics, believing the disappearances are related to Becca’s sudden radio silence. Then she starts finding clues left for her—ostensibly by Becca—alluding to a dangerous game they played as kids and the fictional goddesses it inspired them to create, leaving Nora with more questions than answers. Albert intercuts Nora’s first-person narration with occasional third-person flashbacks from Becca’s perspective that recount recent pivotal events, cleverly amplifying tension. Though the shaky integration of the supernatural elements leads to a somewhat unsatisfying denouement, Albert successfully evokes adolescence’s fraught hyperreality using richly textured, authentically angsty characters and a storytelling style by turns ethereal and electric. Main characters cue as white. Ages 14–up. Agent: Faye Bender, Book Group. (Feb.)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

High-school junior Nora wakes up on her estranged best friend Becca’s front porch with no memory of how she got there, a situation that quickly takes a backseat to the realization that Becca, along with three other people in their small town of Palmetto, Illinois, seems to have vanished without a trace overnight. Nora begins following a series of clues that can only have been left for her by Becca, which lead her to James (the boy Becca has been spending time with since her fight with Nora) and an old local legend known as the Goddess Game, which coincidentally (or not) ties into a game Becca and Nora played as children. As Nora begins to lose time and show signs of potential possession, it’s a race to put together the pieces of where the Goddess Game originated and how to stop what it has unleashed. Creative, artistic main characters are easy to love, making Albert’s exploration of codependent and toxic friendships all the more realistic in its complexity. The slow unraveling of the present-day mystery keeps pace with the flashbacks, revealing just enough in either time frame to answer one question and create two more, until the threads all pull together as the narratives converge. The romance is subtle but sweet, the supernatural creep factor is extreme, and there are secrets aplenty in this compelling and eerie tale.

School Library Journal
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Gr 9 Up—At times lyrical in phrasing but always atmospheric, this occult thriller is one that readers will enjoy disappearing into because of its focus on the power of dark magic, childhood games, and imagination. Pulling no punches, entwining horror with intrigue, Albert opens with a gruesome prologue, immediately vanishing four important players. Nora discovers her former best friend Becca is one of the missing four but knows that the rumors of her running away are wrong, that her friend has left her vital clues. Despite a nasty recent falling out between them, Nora is determined to help Becca, to bring her back safely. Past events and exposition are creatively revealed through recollections rather than flashbacks, and the mystery increases with each additional chapter, winding all storylines into a complex and fascinating puzzle. The dread builds even during pauses in the action, adding in lost time, dissociation, possible hauntings, and Nora's inexplicable craving for huge amounts of sugar. Despite slow revelations and breadcrumb answers dropped throughout, the ending twists and surprises. Readers will feel as off-kilter as Nora, kept second-guessing themselves with each new reveal. All characters are presumed white with some LGBTQIA+ representation. VERDICT A fun, dark, delicious mystery choice for any library serving teens.—Kristen Rademacher

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A teen girl follows cryptic clues left by her best friend, who disappeared into the night. On a cold winter’s night, four people in a small Illinois town vanished into thin air. One of them was Nora’s best friend, Becca, whom she hadn’t spoken to in the three months since their falling out. Although they had been close since childhood, Nora and Becca’s relationship was marked by codependency—until the night when everything changed. But ever since a mysterious night the previous summer when Becca went alone into the woods for a few hours, Nora had sensed that her friend was growing distant. Following Becca’s disappearance, Nora discovered a series of messages she left pointing to their childhood goddess games, based on an urban legend. The game shifted when then-12-year-old Becca was grieving the death of her mother and seeking vengeance against the hit-and-run driver. The first part of the story is slow to get going; eventually, Nora begins to suspect that the key to the mystery lies in uncovering the origins of the goddess game. Albert slowly teases out the supernatural element, but the details remain shrouded in murkiness. What’s more interesting is the dynamic between the two friends; the story is mainly told from Nora’s perspective, as she’s the one left behind to pick up the pieces and figure out how to stand on her own. Main characters read white. A deliberately paced tale for those who appreciate an eerie, character-driven mystery laced with supernatural horror. (Fantasy. 14-18) Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.