So The Tenth Girl.
The slow read part collapsed due to a combination of two factors: the book has to go back to the library and the middle just… dragged for me, which made it too easy to put down, but not so easy to pick up. I decided to blitz through the rest.
Some highlights of my reading experience from chapters 19 on…
What do you mean Sara left Mavi a note written in Old English? I’m reasonably certain she did not! Though if any language had the ability to write “you are all fucked” concisely, Old English (the language of Beowulf) would probably be it. But maybe gothic style lettering? It’s a head-scratcher. Oh wait, Faring says “old english lettering” so my bad. It’s calligraphy not language.
Yesi and Mavi realize that the Others are possessing the nice lamb-like teacher and using him to assault the girls while they sleep. Yesi wants to report him to Carmela, but Mavi doesn’t, because she recognizes possession when she sees it now.
Angel is driving Dom to contemplate suicide by leaping off his balcony. Dom is wasting away, drained by Angel’s possessions. Angel feels guilty but is absolved by realizing that oh wait, it’s another Other inside of Dom making him want to jump. And that this is probably what happened to the missing girl Luciana. Possessed and jumped.
Basically, at this point, anyone can be possessed and piloted by any Other and the building is falling apart around them. “Dom” confesses to Mavi and she decides after some guilty deliberation that she doesn’t care. She likes Angel.
Mavi attempts to leave but the storm drives her back to the dubious shelter of Vaccaro house. No one is leaving.
This whole segment starts to sluggishly degenerate along with the house. The building molds; the food rots; the walls seep; the girls sleep and get sicker.
It’s weird the thing that hooked me back into interest. I realized around chapter 24 or so that I’ve been anglo-centered this whole time. I assumed Angel was a girl’s nickname! Ha, dumbass me. It’s not like there are hundreds of cultures where Angel is a boy’s name. So yeah, Angel is a boy. And weirdly that caught my attention, because if I misread that, what else might I have missed?
So the building starts to not only degenerate but to rearrange itself. Things get worse.
And then we get all the revelations all at once. Some good, some bad, some pointless.
I didn’t like Carmela’s info-dump of her personal history, lined out and spat across the page. I really didn’t like it when that was followed by a two page wall o’ text about Morency’s life and history. These were really aggravating and that was BEFORE the big reveal.
Before Angel confesses to Mavi that this whole school, the whole world, all of the students and their lives and so forth is just… a video game.
Okay, so this is not my favorite reveal ever for a couple of reasons. 1) it makes all their lives seem valueless. 2) it makes the infodumps of Morency and Carmela’s history that much less interesting because none of it matters. They’re written the way they are; it doesn’t matter why. And a bonus 3) it’s kind of a familiar trope.
On the other hand, some things improve on learning that this is all a game: the Zapuche stereotype somehow seems more forgivable as a bad premise for a horror video game. It’s about the setting, not about reality.
Mavi’s earlier heel-turn on “Dom is Horrible!/I must follow him around like a dog” makes much more sense if her attraction to him is part of the program.
And most importantly, Faring does things with this reveal. It’s not just oh no, we’re all programs. She decides that if they’re learning AI personalities then maybe just maybe they can swap places with the Others and get out into the real world.
It’s not like the Others are a loss to humanity, she suggests, deliberately playing a game known for indulging sadism and pedophilia. Torturing people over and over again is still evil even if it’s digital.*
So I’m interested in the Great Escape.
Other reveals go better: I thought the revelation of Charon being Sharon, a sort of family “friend” worked. Not only was there the gender bias upset (again! I need to pay more attention): that this foul-mouthed gluttonous troll was a female programmer with painted toenails. But that Charon was in fact the Tenth Girl, the little ghost girl being her avatar in the game.
After Mavi goes through the somewhat standard “hey, let me self-mutilate to prove we’re not real and can’t die”, it was engaging to watch her and Yesi rally the troupe, in an attempt to save each other from this nasty little fate that they never quite remembered, but had to suffer through over and over.
I liked the “game reveals”: Yesi’s novel turning out to be a listing of player scores. And hey! That’s what Angel’s chapter numbers are about. Experience points! You can tell I’m not a gamer of any sort.
I liked that the number obsessed math teacher was mumbling digital passcodes for the players.
As expected, Angel’s Painful Past was disappointing. And kind of swept under the rug very quickly. Oh, Angel accidentally killed his beloved baby brother in a tragic event. Oh, his sister hates him for it, except a few heart-felt words and suddenly she’s on his side? What about the borderline abusive husband? It doesn’t seem to matter: everything is looking up for Angel.
*When it turns out that Angel’s mother and her business partner Sharon built this game… I have to wonder if she was as compassionate as Angel remembers her being. I know that the art is not the artist, especially in a collaborative work, but still. I side-eye Angel’s dead mother. Her building the game makes sense in that it’s a good reason for Angel to decide to play it—a last attempt at getting closer to her. But personality-wise, it felt off. I would have liked more here and less about Angel’s loop of grief/guilt. I think there’s enough cues to suggest that Angel’s mother came up with the game, showcasing pieces of her own Argentinian past, and had her ideas twisted by Sharon in the name of money. Since Angel’s mother was beset by medical bills that she would leave her kids… Sure, I’ll go with that.
I had some plausibility issues with the Code escaping the Game to possess the players, but it felt like satisfying turnabout in concept, so I ran with it. Though then I’m stuck wondering—how do all these teen girls feel now that they’ve been shoe-horned into the bodies of old, white pervert men? (Not Mavi though; she ended up in Sharon of the painted toe-nails.)
Anyway, in the end, I’m glad I pushed through. There was a lot of writing that I really loved in the book, and some fun, chewy concepts. I enjoyed Dollhouse (though I know many people did not for valid reasons), and some of this reminded me of that concept: the “toys” developing their own personalities even after being erased. The concept that experience goes to the core of someone, even if that someone, in this case, is bodiless.
I still miss the haunted house story I thought I was getting though. Sigh.