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In Girl’s Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, we follow three girlfriends on their trip to Tulum, Mexico. They had been friends for years, but recent events in their lives put a strain on their relationships. This trip is their last chance to reconnect. Only, the getaway doesn’t go as planned—old wounds don’t always heal so easily. When one of the friends disappears, the other two must overcome suspicion and memory loss to work together and find out what happened.
It’s all very well to tell us to forgive our enemies; our enemies can never hurt us very much. But oh, what about forgiving our friends?Willa Cather, My Mortal Enemy
That quote got me so pumped. I thought these girls were not going to get along and it was going to be spicy. In reality, Girls’ Night Out has so little plot, the character’s thoughts, fears, and fights are repeated over and over and become very annoying. Girls’ Night Out reads like a 30-minute Lifetime crime show stretched to a 3½-hour movie. Our group couldn’t get over how unlikeable each of these girls were, and I think this is in part due to lack of story and consequent repetition. Because the characters were saying and thinking the same negative things repeated ad naseaum, it was hard to understand why they were so adamant about being friends. The suspense was weak because the plot was so drawn-out. Girls’ Night Out failed to thrill and failed to provide an interesting perspective on girl friendships.
Wine Selection & Tasting
Margaritas. They were super sweet and the tequila was intense. Some of us actually opted to replace the tequila with vodka due to some negative tequila body-memory. A super-lux girlfriend brought Grand Marnier and upped the game significantly!
Another issue with the book is the authors’ focus on telling and not showing. The novel felt speedily written: abbreviated like a screenplay. Descriptions of scene often read like notes for an actor. Also, there is some awkward, unnatural writing that perhaps an editor should have caught. Here are some examples:
She looked at Lauren. “But, Natalie, I didn’t see you or Ashley, so I was a little worried.”
She ran her hand along another sign–this one read “Tapas, Musica & Mas.” She blew out a long breath, thinking they’d all gotten mas than they’d bargained for last night. That was for sure.
“This place is gorgeous,” Ashley said, inhaling the warm salty air. She knew she should say something deeper, but the words were caught in her throat, or maybe her heart.
“So who should we believe?” Lauren asked. “Like anything in life, it is up to you. Your thoughts are your own.”
“I saw it as an opportunity to have [Ashley] all to myself.”
“She had such a power over me,” [Natalie] said, her voice breaking.
“She had a power over everybody,” Lauren said.
She had no idea what the rest of her life looked like. It could be behind bars in a prison in Mexico. It could be discovering the awful depths of what she might be capable of. It could be back home with her family. It could be a million different things. But it would never include Ashley. And that thought was sadder than any other.
This quote is an excellent example of Girls’ Night Out not taking a reader seriously. What woman is more concerned about losing a friend than the prospect of being separated from her children in a Mexican prison for the rest of her life? Unless they wanted to reveal an obsessive, twisted relationship between Natalie and Ashley, the statement above makes no sense. Even the concept that she could be a murderer should rank above losing her friend. That’s pretty life-changing stuff. What an insulting amount of smarm.
As a group, we felt that Lauren’s sex addiction was thrown in hastily to flesh-out her character. To be fair, if she felt her actions were harmful, that’s completely fair and a personal call to make. However, the sex that was described and that was depicted (hooking up with hot bartenders on vacation, occasionally using tinder) does not seem to describe sex addiction. She also doesn’t describe it as being harmful or dangerous—for example, it didn’t interrupt girl time during the vacation and she didn’t mention that she wasn’t using protection. If Lauren hadn’t said that she thought she had a sex addiction, it would just have been a single woman messing around. On the darker side of possibilities, perhaps Lauren felt she would be judged for her actions, and thus had to claim an addiction so she wouldn’t be slut-shamed by her friends.
A piece of knowledge that I may have known before but slipped away until reading this book—the Mayans were astrologers, building elaborate temples that aligned with the stars. The girls visit a Mayan temple called Chichen Itza—another effort to connect with the spirituality of the region and to connect as friends. It was fun to be re-acquainted with the ancient Mayan culture, and I did appreciate its inclusion in the story.
Chichen Itza was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, along with other great feats of human effort like the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and the Roman Colosseum. (If you are wondering what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are because you are, perhaps, an avid trivia nerd…here is a link.)
I looked up House Hunter’s International – in Tulum, Mexico! What a gorgeous place surrounded by historical treasures. It was a lot different to watch the show with the knowledge included in Girls’ Night Out…like the hundreds of international travelers that go missing in Tulum every year, and the hundreds of deaths related to the drug war.
Something that Girls’ Night Out did fairly well was the depiction of Lauren’s grief. It was conflicted, and the way she distanced herself from her friends in order to process felt real. It also felt natural when Lauren’s friends didn’t know how to react to the new morbid humor Lauren had adopted after her loss.
“Spoken by the only person at the table with no job,” Natalie said.
“If the life insurance payout fits…,” Lauren said. But Ashley wasn’t sure whether she should laugh too. So far Geoff had felt like an untouchable subject. She glanced at Natalie—who also looked dumbfounded.
“Ladies, come on! Annie would be rolling on the floor over that one.”
At the funeral she’d felt almost as if she were acting the part of the widow–her true feelings of grief just beyond reach, blocked by her irrational anger. But here, surrounded by the spirits of hundreds of thousands of people, she felt him.
Girl’s Night Out was supposed to be a book for us—the synopsis is all about the women reconnecting through the dramas of real life and the sudden disappearance that makes the book a thriller. We were all looking forward to relating to these women while enjoying a fast-paced mystery. Unfortunately, none of us got what we wanted with Girl’s Night Out.
We ended up not talking about the book eventually and somehow got on the topic of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Is it the best Star Wars movie, connecting the trilogies and answering questions that make the original movies better? What about those last ten minutes? Which Jedi are force-sensitive? In what order should we show the movies to our kids when they come of age? To be clear, not everyone in the group was equally invested in this conversation…which is its own kind of fun! 😉
Girls’ Night Out Discussion Questions
- What is your overall impression of the book? Would you recommend it to a friend?
- What did you suspect had happened to Ashley? Did your suspicions change throughout the novel?
- How did you feel when you read from Ashley’s perspective at the very end?
- Girls’ Night Out has three narrators: Natalie, Ashley, and Lauren. Which character did you identify with most? Did you feel they each had a distinct voice and/ or personality?
- In long-term friendships, sometimes communicating your true feelings can become more difficult, especially if the relationships are complicated by grief, jealousy, or business dealings. Was the reluctance to communicate between each of these friends realistic or did it feel contrived to move the plot? Or a little of both?
- Girls’ Night Out solves the story of Ashley’s disappearance over the course of a few days. The flash back to arguments over the trip and over the previous year are meant to increase the suspense and pace of the story. Do you think this was effective? Why or why not?
- Ashley’s motivations for her actions may have been the most confusing part of the story—this is in part because the authors’ made the decision to allow us inside her thoughts, so we know she wasn’t consciously being duplicitous. What’s going one with Ashley, man? What drove her to spend time with Marco when she worked so hard to get the girls to agree to the trip? How could she imagine a future living a new life in Mexico while still running her business with Natalie? What was left unsaid? Most importantly, did it work for the story or was it needlessly obfuscating?
- Did Girls’ Night Out make you more or less interested in visiting Tulum, Mexico?
- In the end, Lauren feels guilty for not forgiving Ashley and Natalie is heartbroken that she will never see her friend again. Would they feel the same way about Ashley if she were still alive? Did Ashley’s death distort their perception of her behavior while she was alive or did it bring clarity?
- One of the themes in Girls’ Night Out is friendship. How hard should it be? When does friendship twist into something that is unfair or unkind to one or both parties? Should any of the girls in this story be friends?
“It’s just been so difficult, Nat. Friendship shouldn’t be this hard.” She was right. Friendship with Ashley was often difficult. But did that mean it wasn’t worth it?
- All three main characters had been mistreated by their partners in some way. Did this bring them together are push them apart? How did this affect the story?