A century after the macabre deaths of several students at a New England girls' boarding school, the release of a sensational book on the school's history inspires a horror film adaptation that renews suspicions of a curse when the cast and crew arrive at the long-abandoned building.
[A] shapeshifting novel ... A hot amalgamation of gothic horror and Hollywood satire, it’s draped with death but bursting with life ... Indeed, Plain Bad Heroines may be the only novel I know that should come with an EpiPen. What makes all this so much fun is Danforth’s deliciously ghoulish voice, a kind of Victorian Gossip Girl ... The supernatural elements grow across these pages as slowly — and ominously — as black mold ... It stings — but oh, the sensation is exquisite.
...there are times when a reader wants nothing more, and nothing less, than an exquisitely plotted, winkingly crafted romp. Plain Bad Heroines, a queer historical meta-novel by Emily Danforth with at least a dozen layers of formal flourish, is joyfully and delightfully middlebrow; I say this with reverence in my tone and adoration in my heart. It’s 600 pages you can read in a weekend, a supersized Slurpee that will satiate you and leave behind a sugar high ... There are direct asides to the dear reader, George Eliot-esque epigraphs and even ink sketches of bustle-skirted ladies in distress. It’s also — to use a word rarely employed in high praise — fun ... There is no literary embellishment in which Danforth won’t indulge. Her narrator winks at us from the footnotes ... In less dexterous hands, this sort of high-camp homage — which pops up perennially from novelists as varied as Susanna Clarke, Marisha Pessl and Reif Larsen — could fail spectacularly ... She’s gifted at braiding characterization, suspenseful plotting and frequent injections of flat-out terror. And she knows that piling it on past the breaking point is a formal innovation all its own ... What’s more, Danforth writes potent women ... The sheer queerness of it all is exhilarating. No stock lesbians, and no coyness. Every major character is a queer woman — every last one — and each of them wears her sexuality differently, an idea that shouldn’t feel revelatory in 2020 but annoyingly doe ... It’s successfully played on and inverted the myth of a book as a haunted object, and at the same time made us afraid that even closing the book won’t prevent a zealous little insect from crawling out of its pages.
[An] indulgent greenhouse of grotesqueries shadowed by gothic elements and pepped up with metafiction and mystery ... the story is illustrated with deliciously unsettling black-and-white line drawings by cartoonist Sara Lautman ... Danforth delivers her narrative in an urbane, droll voice akin to a Victorian novelist writing for BuzzFeed. Her diverse, largely gay and lesbian cast takes a large, glorious step forward for LGBTQ representation in the horror genre ... The relentless, multilayered curse lends psychological and body horror elements, but the brooding atmosphere and careful characterization make Plain Bad Heroines an easily cultivated obsession.