How Holly Jackson Wrote the Perfect Mystery Novel

By Skylar Hart

Over the summer, I indulged in reading many books; however, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder was one I could not put down. The young adult novel follows a 17-year-old girl, Pippa, who decides to dedicate her school project to diving deep into a local murder-suicide that took place and was considered a closed case by her town. While the story is primarily a thriller or perhaps, a murder mystery, it also remains heartwarming, sweet, and somehow still leaves you guessing the killer with Pippa until the very end.

I believe the true power of Jackson’s writing lies in her ability to keep the reader in a position of just enough “not knowing.” While we get the thoughts and dialogue of the protagonist, Pippa, and those around her, we are left in the dark about the world around her and the truth of the mystery she is trying to solve, who killed Andie Bell and why? Pippa believes the boy accused of her friend’s sister’s death is not to blame and she becomes more sure of this when bad things begin to happen in her own life as she slowly uncovers more. At one point in the story, Pippa grows closer to uncovering the murderer and soon, her dog is found killed in the woods behind her home. Bad things begin to follow Pippa, and she cannot help but believe she is getting warmer to the truth. There are so many moments you think you figured Jackson out and suddenly, you are thrown for another loop. You have your narrative in mind and you are sure of it and suddenly, you are wrong.

“Not knowing” has a power of its own. “Not knowing” leaves the reader guessing and coming up with a narrative of their own that makes it interesting to figure out the truth. In the how-to book The Making of a Story, Alice LaPlante writes, “All this, of course, is simply another way to say that we should write about what we don’t know about what we know. Without using this sense of not-knowingness, or mystery, as a starting point, anything we write will be lifeless and predictable.” Jackson’s emphasis on not-knowingness makes the reader want to keep flipping pages and reading lines. I quite literally wanted to jump into the book and start filing through cold case files myself. The “not knowing” almost puts you right there with the protagonist and leaves you just as unsure as them.

If there is one book I wish I could unread so that I could read it again and get the same experience, it would be A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in a heartbeat. It is funny, charming, thrilling, and truly a book to be read by true-crime lovers (like me) everywhere!

Jackson, Holly. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. 2019.

LaPlante, Alice. The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing. Langara College, 2019.

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