ARC Review: PLACID GIRL by Brenna Ehrlich

Punk was created for the malcontents, something that loner and aspiring drummer Hallie understands all too well. Trapped in a boring suburban life – dysfunctional parents included! – Hallie drowns her angst in the angry songs of Haze, a masked musician who has not been heard from in five years. So naturally she’s surprised – and more than a little skeptical – when someone who seems to be Haze starts flirting with her via her favorite photo-sharing app. Is he who he says he is? What does he want from her? The questions only multiply when Hallie — along with bandmate Sarah and aspiring music journalist Steve — roadtrip to Haze's comeback gig to unmask the reclusive musician once and for all.

I downloaded this book on a whim after reading the description for it on NetGalley. Punk rock, angst, and the road trip drew me toward PLACID GIRL. Then, I did a little bit of research, and learned that this story began in initial drafts as a retelling of LOLITA, and I was sold on the novel conceptually. I had no expectations as I began the reading, as is so often the case with a debut.

Putting it simply, PLACID GIRL blew me away. I read it in one sitting, unable to put down this compelling story where contemporary and psychological thriller converged in a way that was new to me and left me wanting more.

First, the contemporary elements that I love so much. The emotion in the writing alone was palpable from beginning to end. Hallie, the protagonist, was angsty and complex and real. I felt everything along with her as I was reading the book. I identified with her shyness, but still felt her longing for attention and to be heard. The language was spot on the whole way through, with realistic actions and reactions. I loved her friendship with Sarah. Despite her insecurities of always being second-rate compared to Sarah, the friendship was real (even down to the bickering), and you knew that these two girls would do anything for each other. Steve, the music journalist, and his story was an equally compelling subplot, and I loved how him and Hallie found their way to each other through their common love for music.

Based on my comments so far, you'd think that PLACID GIRL is a cute contemporary story with a sprinkle of punk music. Wrong. It's dark, and quite frankly, pretty messed up. There are twists and turns that I didn't even see coming, and using I can spot predictability from a mile away. Hallie loves Haze's music, it speaks to her on a deep visceral level that is difficult to put into words. So, when an anonymous someone starts messaging Hallie though a photo-sharing app, someone who Hallie suspects might be Haze, she can't help but respond. That's where we begin to see the connections with LOLITA. I think that Ehrlich does a fantastic job showing both the dangers and allure of social media in a way that's not shaming or reprimanding, just honest. Hallie's characterization is so well contrived that it's not difficult to understand why she's responding to Haze, why she's sending pictures to him, why she wants his attention.

Haze's identity is finally revealed in the climax of the novel, when his mask is removed, and it is not what anyone is expecting. 

Music is the string that ties this story together, and the descriptions of Hallie playing the drums are among my favorite moments in the entire book. While the situation that Hallie, Sarah, and Steve found themselves in was slightly dramatized and over the top for my usual taste, something about Ehrlich's writing style pulled it off for me. I will definitely be recommending this one to my friends, and I cannot wait until it is out in the world so I have more people to talk about it with!

PLACID GIRL will be released on August 25, 2015 by All Ages Press. You can pre-order it here