A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho
After graduating high school, Finley leaves her mom in NYC to visit her dad in Maine for the summer. But as Cristina Moracho shows in A Good Idea, everything has changed since Finley’s best friend was murdered. Finley finds everyone in town has written off her friend’s death as a disappearance, while the killer walks free. A community hoping to forget and bury their secrets finds that Finley won’t let them, not caring what – or who – she leaves in her wake. Can she figure out the mystery behind Betty’s disappearance and finally see her killer brought to justice? Only if she doesn’t end up dead herself.
Moracho grabs the reader instantly with her premise – a teenager avenging her dead best friend. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t hold up. A Good Idea opens on a graduation scene in small town Williston in 1998. Finley watches the ceremony with angst, revealing to the reader that her friend Betty should have graduated today.
Finley’s character is brash and interesting, but the narrative loses its punch because it tries to do too many things at once. As the mystery comes together, Moracho gives just enough to read on, but nothing in the story awes or intrigues.
A Good Idea shines in its characters. Finley has a spitfire personality, acts without thinking, and is courageous but naive. She grapples with grief and depression after Betty’s death, and her apathy makes her reckless. The reader is always hoping Finley can find the peace she deserves.
There’s also Finley’s not-quite boyfriend Owen. With a chip on his shoulder from being stuck in Williston, he’s gotten tangled with the wrong crowd while Finley has been gone. Trying to support his business and his family turns dangerous when Owen dabbles in drug-dealing. We see multiple people, including Finley, abuse oxycontin, sometimes with heartbreaking results.
Finley also meets Serena on her quest to bring Betty’s murder to justice. Serena is a lesbian who was sent to a religious reformation camp with Betty. They were friends, and Serena eggs Finley on as they try to solve the murder together. The reader is never quite sure whether one can trust Serena, and that gives her relationship with Finley a spark. She and Finley become a sort-of couple, unheard of in Williston, and it further damages Finley’s reputation.
Serena, Owen, and Finley form a love triangle although it seems forced. The relationship with Serena evolves from nothing and disappoints the reader already invested in Finley and Owen. While the relationship between Serena and Finley adds an extra emotional punch toward the end, it lacks the development to truly contribute to the narrative.
Moracho tosses a lot at her readers in one novel, including heavy topics such as depression and mental health illness, underage drinking, smoking, drug use and addiction, slut shaming, divorce, and sexuality. The problem is, while the characters have rich stories, there are too many elements to follow, and nothing gets explored deeply.
The aggressive substance abuse in A Good Idea is overwhelming. While the story addresses real life problems that people struggle with daily, their use is a vehicle for the characters to make bad decisions and nothing more. It also turns the story into a cliche – another small town with nothing to do but drink and get high.
Though it stumbles in spots, its characters and strong ending make A Good Idea an enjoyable read for lovers of dark teen thrillers.