review

A Trio of Final Girls: Grady Hendrix, Riley Sager & Stephen Graham Jones

Final Girls was suggested to me back in December, when I asked for recommendations for the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Being an idiot, I prompt got incredibly confused because well… these three all have pretty much the name title.

I decided to read all three (with enough time between them to keep the comparisons fair) and see which one I preferred.

The Final Girl Support Group

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

Final Girls

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.
 
Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
 
That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

The Last Final Girl

Life in a slasher film is easy. You just have to know when to die.

Aerial View: A suburban town in Texas. Everyone’s got an automatic garage door opener. All the kids jump off a perilous cliff into a shallow river as a rite of passage. The sheriff is a local celebrity. You know this town. You’re from this town.

Zoom In: Homecoming princess, Lindsay. She’s just barely escaped death at the hands of a brutal, sadistic murderer in a Michael Jackson mask. Up on the cliff, she was rescued by a horse and bravely defeated the killer, alone, bra-less. Her story is already a legend. She’s this town’s heroic final girl, their virgin angel.

Monster Vision: Halloween masks floating down that same river the kids jump into. But just as one slaughter is not enough for Billie Jean, our masked killer, one victory is not enough for Lindsay. Her high school is full of final girls, and she’s not the only one who knows the rules of the game.

When Lindsay chooses a host of virgins, misfits, and former final girls to replace the slaughtered members of her original homecoming court, it’s not just a fight for survival-it’s a fight to become The Last Final Girl.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Published July 13th 2021

THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP was the first of these three books I picked up and I really, really enjoyed it. I didn’t take itself too seriously, and clearly held a great love for the movies it alluded to.

THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP is fast-paced and including faux magazine articles, transcripts, etc was a very nice touch. I thought the authors’ passion for and knowledge of horror/slasher tropes and films really came through well. The ‘Final Girls’ nemesis are mostly recognisable references to classic movies villains (Texas Chainsaw, Scream etc) but at one point I really did have a quick Google to see if some of the specific TFGSG-original titles mentioned were real.

I sped through THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP and really enjoyed the mystery. on-the-run aspects. It was great to see how time had left its mark on the girls, twenty-odd years after the fact, and how the traumatic experiences affected the various ‘final girls’ differently.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Published July 11th 2017

The second book I picked up, and the original recommendation. While this was an easy read, and not a bad book, it was also by far the most hyped of the three and sadly didn’t live up to my expectations.

FINAL GIRLS felt like a more ‘realistic’ take on the final girl idea, cutting the number of girls down and dropping the focus on making the killers parodies of well-known slashers. It’s a more grounded, traditional thriller novel in terms of pacing and plot. tells it’s story with a dual timeline spilt (roughly 80/20, Quincy’s current life to flashbacks of the murder spree). The problem is, the current day sections are too slow and repetitive. The flashback sections have more potential, but ultimately fall flat, because, of the six (?) young adults in the cabin with Quincy, two are cliched cardboard cut-outs, and the other are even less than that, barely even names.

The last quarter of so did come together and really pick up the pace. There were a couple of twists, and the ‘main’ one was (in my opinion) perfectly placed, I clocked the realisation moments before Quincy. Although fast-paced this section had a rushed feel to it, as if the author was frantically taping together pieces to convince us it all fit together.

By no means a bad book, but a bit of a disappointment.

The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones

Published September 22nd 2012

I think this was the least hyped of the three, so I really went in with very few expectations.

THE LAST FINAL GIRL is written in present tense, in the format of a movie script. The characters are partially aware of the genre/situation they’re in, and occasionally play to or subvert the clichés and expectations.

This was by far the shortest of the three books, and the only one that had an actual teen/high school setting. Like the other two, it’s mostly set in the aftermath of a slasher spree, but this more-or-less continues the events, rather than looking back after many years. I did really like the plot of this one, but the writing style (which I admire the author for trying) took me a while to really settle into, and I didn’t feel the characters were as fleshed out as they could have been.

Conclusions

While none of the three books was perfect, none were actually bad either. I think, on reflection my order of preference was probably The Final Girl Support Group, The Last Final Girl, with Final Girls bringing up the rear (saved largely the pacing of the finale). Interesting, since Final Girls was the original recommendation. I’d be willing to try at least another novel from any of the authors though, so none was a loss.

If you like ‘final girl’ tropes, I really recommended the film The Final Girls (2015) with Taissa Farmiga, Malin Åkerman, and Alexander Ludwig.

I’ve also got my eye on a novel published this year The Lucky One by Jessica Payne, which doesn’t have final or girl anywhere in the title, but sounds like a more realistic psychological/ less horror movie take on some similar ideas.

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