Julia Lynn Rubin
published: 1st June 2021
When Trixie picks up her best friend Lux for their weekend getaway, she’s looking to escape for a little while, to forget the despair of being trapped in their dead-end Rust Belt town and the daunting responsibility of caring for her ailing mother. The girls are packing light: a supply of Diet Coke for Lux and her ‘89 Canon to help her frame the world in a sunnier light; half a pack of cigarettes for Trixie that she doesn’t really smoke, and a knife—one she’s just hanging on to for a friend—that she’s never used before.
But a single night of violence derails their trip and will forever change the course of the girls’ lives, as they go from ordinary high schoolers to wanted fugitives. Trying to stay ahead of the cops and a hellscape of media attention, the girls grapple with an unforgiving landscape, rapidly diminishing supplies, and disastrous decisions at every turn. As they are transformed by the media into the face of a #MeToo movement they didn’t ask to lead and the road before them begins to run out, Trixie and Lux realize that they can only rely on each other, and that the love they find together is the one thing that truly makes them free.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: domestic abuse, sexual assault, past child sexual abuse
Trouble Girls is a book that feels mostly aesthetic and not much deeper. I mean, I’m perfectly willing to accept that this might just have been me — plenty of people haven’t had this problem after all. But if we’re talking why I didn’t enjoy this book, that would be the biggest reason (and one I’ll come back to later).
The story follows Trixie and Lux as they set off on a weekend roadtrip. Only, quite rapidly, their plans go downhill after Trixie stabs a man who’s sexually assaulting Lux. And, thereafter, they go on the run from the cops and media.
As I said at the start, the book feels more of an aesthetic than anything particularly deep. I don’t quite know how to explain it, because it’s just a feeling, not something so concrete, but I think what illustrates it is this: there’s a line somewhere in the first quarter where Trixie says something along the lines of “you never know which nice-projecting men might be actual shits so you go around assuming they all are”. I hate to be defending cishet men here, but that line kind of loses any power it might have when all you’re shown is shitty men. That’s what I mean by this book is all aesthetic and no depth. It’s things like that, and how Lux is supposed to be some critique of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope but feels barely fleshed out in that respect. Add onto that the fact I actually needed to be shown a lot more than I was, particularly regarding Trixie and Lux’s feelings of powerlessness, and what led Trixie to straight up stab a guy as her first instinct. None of that felt clear to me.
And then there’s the fact that there’s no real drive to the plot thereafter. They go on the run, sure, but they never feel as though they really are. There’s the occasional part where they get to see what the media’s saying, but there’s never a hint that anyone’s near to catching them, not until the very end. All you’d need is maybe someone recognising them, or someone looking about to call the police. As such, much of the plot feels somewhat pointless, like when they pick up a hitchhiker and she… I don’t know, teaches them some things? This is what I mean by pointlessness and lack of drive. They spend about 80% of the book just dicking about on the road.
Which means the ending really falls flat. It’s not forecasted at all and it comes very abruptly, with no hint of perhaps they make it out of all this. I get that this book was supposed to be some catharsis, getting revenge on the system, on rape culture, for women. But none of it lands, because they end up arrested still. Not to mention all this sticking it to the system seems to come out of nowhere, because we’re not really shown Trixie and Lux’s powerlessness effectively. It seems more that they do it on a thoughtless whim, to have a bit of fun (not to mention none of what they do is that big? It’s just spraypaint). So as much as this book was supposed to be cathartic, in the end the only catharsis I experienced was in writing this review.
And then we get to the romance. This is another aspect I didn’t feel was effectively foreshadowed or shown, but I won’t dwell on that because the same as above applies. But once they started on it, none of it felt like I had a reason to root for them together. Perhaps this is because the book as a whole felt somewhat rushed (again linking in to not being shown a lot maybe?). There was no time for things like romance to breathe, which I get is hard because these characters are (supposedly) on the run. They can’t exactly settle down for a few days and develop the relationship in the same way a romance novel would. But on the whole, there was not really a whole lot there that suggested to me they were in love. It felt more like “oh we’re on the run together, all this adrenaline, we have to hook-up”. Which was a shame.
In the end, then, this is a book that just didn’t land for me. It had the potential, it just didn’t live up to it.