Curses are stories are histories, and Plain Bad Heroines is full to the brim with all three. In 1902 the Brookhants School for Girls witnessed the romance of two students, Flo and Clara, with each other and with Mary Maclane’s scandalous memoir—a romance ending with their gruesome demise in a swarm of yellowjackets. After three more untimely deaths the school closed for good, forgotten until the present, when young Merritt Emmons’s queer novel about Brookhants becomes a breakout bestseller. Hollywood comes calling, bringing along lesbian indie it-girl Harper Harper and former child star Audrey Wells to star in the adaptation. But naturally, when these three young women arrive at the old school grounds to begin filming, the situation goes frighteningly awry.
Plain Bad Heroines is Danforth’s first adult novel and second overall, following the much-beloved young adult book The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012). Illustrated by Sara Lautman with an echo of Edward Gorey, the book plays luxurious games with the reader, nesting stories within stories (within stories) as the hauntings unfold. Whether it’s the straightforward gothic of the 1902 plot(s) or the compulsive, prickly-sexy contemporary film production’s messy queer attractions, Danforth nails each beat. Plain Bad Heroines is scary, witty, and darkly taunting—without ever losing the core of heart inside the ghoulish cleverness of the prose.