By Ekta R. Garg
September 15, 2021
Release date: September 14, 2021
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
A young woman finds her roommate murdered. Plagued by memories of her troubled childhood, she tries to figure out what happened to her roommate while also fighting her personal demons. Author Amanda Jayatissa puts in place several thriller elements but ultimately disappoints in her debut novel My Sweet Girl.
Paloma Evans is freaking out. Her roommate, Arun, is dead. Murdered to be exact, and she’s the one who finds his body. While her feelings toward Arun swing between benign and disgust, she certainly didn’t want him to die.
The fact that she found Arun face down in a pool of his own blood is disturbing enough. But Arun recently tried to blackmail her with personal information, and Paloma knows that makes her look culpable. At the very least, it makes her look suspicious. Her last communication to him was an angry text, and she’s horrified to think how the police will view that.
She needed Arun—his rent, anyway. Despite being adopted by a couple of wealthy means, she’s recently been cut off from her parents’ money. Without the stability of those funds coming in, Paloma has been scrambling to pay her bills. She’s gotten involved in some shady ways to earn money, but renting out the second bedroom in her overpriced San Francisco apartment helped. Until Arun went and got himself killed, that is.
Worse is who Paloma thinks is responsible for the murder. She knows no one will take her theory seriously, but it’s the only explanation she has. In the orphanage in Sri Lanka where she lived until she was 12, she and some of the other girls used to scare one another with the story of the ghost Mohini. Even though the Evanses adopted her and gave her everything she could ever want and more, some superstitions die hard. Paloma is convinced Mohini traveled to California with her and was waiting for the right moment to scare her again. Killing Arun seems to be the right time.
On top of everything else, Paloma can’t stop drinking. It’s her way of coping with all the hardships in her life. Once she finds Arun’s body, she leaves her apartment and moves into her parents’ fancy home in the suburbs. There she starts watching the neighbors who, in turn, spook her with their seemingly suspicious behavior. The longer Arun’s murder goes unsolved, the more she’s convinced that someone or something is out to get her. But who? And why?
Author Amanda Jayatissa uses her own heritage to form the backdrop of this book but doesn’t take full advantage of it. Paloma could have been adopted from any foreign country with a culture of ghost stories, and the result would have been the same. While the publication of an Own Voices book is to be applauded, there’s not much here that makes the Sri Lankan culture in particular stand out.
What does stand out, however, is Paloma’s penchant for swearing. The story is littered with the f-word with several uses on every page. It becomes tiresome and almost offensive at points. Also, it stands at odds with the implications of Paloma’s childhood. If her mother was so perfect and such a public figure loved by all—and one of those mothers who constantly offered Paloma advice on how to maintain appearances—wouldn’t she object at some point to the language Paloma used?
Also problematic is Paloma as an unreliable narrator. Readers spend the majority of the book inside her head, and at times the running internal monologue drags the pace down. Paloma spends a great deal of time wringing her hands. Her almost perpetual drunkenness marks her untrustworthy. Had she engaged in her surroundings in the way that the protagonists of The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl did, the book would have been much more engaging. Instead, readers get a main character who is sitting around feeling sorry for herself and who is letting her alcohol-infused state cloud everything from her judgment to her vision.
The book also suffers from a mild identity crisis. Is it supposed to be about different cultures? Is it a straight-out thriller? Is it a character study? The novel attempts to be all these but succeeds at none.
A twist in the plot late in the book lifts it for a short time, but the climax drags it right down again with a monologue and an ending that will leave readers thinking, “So what?”. I recommend readers Bypass My Sweet Girl.