Jennifer Mathieu swings for the fences in Bad Girls Never Say Die, a feminist retelling of S.E. Hinton’s 1967 category-defining classic, The Outsiders. It’s not quite the equal of Hinton’s grand slam, but Mathieu’s fresh spin makes for a home run of a read.
Evie Barnes is a self-described bad girl living in Houston in 1964. She wears heavy eyeliner and joins her “tuff” group of girlfriends in skipping school, smoking and drinking. When Evie is attacked and almost raped by a drunk boy at a drive-in movie, she believes her bad-girl status has been cemented. No good girl would put herself in a position where she could get hurt by a boy, right?
Wrong. Diane, the epitome of a good girl from the nice side of town (Evie calls her a “tea sipper”), stops the assault but unintentionally kills the boy in the process. This sends Evie and Diane on a police-dodging odyssey of unexpected friendship as they discover what it really means to be a bad girl.
In The Outsiders, characters regularly have the snot beat out of them for being part of the wrong crew, but the threat to the young women in Mathieu’s novel feels more existential. Yes, a young man attacks a young woman, but Mathieu doubles and then triples down on the horrors that women face every day. In a stunning moment of catharsis, Evie reflects, “It seems like if you want to really love and feel and breathe in this city, you’re labeled trash. Or bad. Especially if you’re a girl.”
Of course, that existential threat, which is the true antagonist of the story, has a name: It’s patriarchy. And Mathieu knows it. It’s why every female character in the book (and there are quite a few) is imbued with depth and purpose, no matter what side of town they’re from or how old they are. They’re all fighting the same cultural force that is determined to keep them down.
Best known for Moxie, another YA novel about young women fighting “the man,” Mathieu offers another rallying cry in Bad Girls Never Say Die and proves it’s good to go bad.