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Jessica Goodman’s debut, They Wish They Were Us, is definitely one of the most interesting young adult thrillers I’ve read and tackles privilege and entitlement in a way I haven’t yet seen done before.
At Gold Coast Prep, being a member of the Players, Gold Coast’s not-so-secret society, grants you access to unlimited privilege—they have the best parties, the best grades, and are seemingly untouchable. Jill Newman is one of the lucky few, with status, endless potential, and opportunity, and she’s determined to make her final year of school her best year yet. But then she gets a text from Rachel, a former Player and the older sister of Graham—Jill’s once-friend who was convicted of murdering her best friend, and his girlfriend, on the night of their initiation into the Players three years ago. Rachel claims that Graham is innocent and that his confession was coerced. Jill wants justice for her best friend but she soon learns that not everyone wants the truth to come out, and there are no limits to what some people will do to stay in their positions of privilege.
For about 60% of They Wish They Were Us, I was convinced that this was going to be another thriller/murder mystery featuring privileged kids with too much time and money on their hands and a golden girl (who turns out to not be so golden) who was murdered because she played it too fast and loose (for the record, I still would’ve enjoyed it if it was, I love these kinds of stories). To be sure, it has these basic elements, but They Wish They Were Us takes it a million steps further in the best way.
They Wish They Were Us takes the privileged clique trope and complicates it, focusing on the power dynamics in a way that I’ve never seen done before. Yes, the students that make up the Players were brought together because of their privilege (or apparent privilege, in some cases) and by a common goal of maintaining the status quo, but I appreciated that the relationships—especially the female relationships—transcended the secret society and its arbitrary rules.
The dynamic of the female Players, both current and former, was really the most compelling part of this story for me. It was fascinating to watch Jill and her friends struggle through the ranks of the Players, telling themselves that they just needed to survive until they were finally in a position to change things for the better, only to perpetuate the same dynamic once they finally were.
This is not just a murder mystery, but a story showcasing the very real danger of allowing privilege and entitlement to foster with no sense of boundaries or accountability. And it’s also a story about complicated, imperfect, young women who are, at the end of the day, just trying to figure out who they are and what their place is and grappling with their complicity.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has not impacted or influenced my opinions.