From the author of BOY PARTS

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Pub Date Jul 06 2023 | Archive Date Jul 13 2023

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'An unmissable banger that you need to preorder immediately.' ALICE SLATER
'You've never read anything like this.' JULIA ARMFIELD

'A meta-meditation on the mysteries, malice, and minutiae of adolescence.' TOM BENN
'One of the summer's most talked-about books.' SUNDAY TIMES

Do you know what happened already?
Did you know her? Did you see it on the internet? Did you listen to a podcast? Did the hosts make jokes?

Did you see the pictures of the body?

Did you look for them?

It's been nearly a decade since the horrifying murder of sixteen-year-old Joan Wilson rocked Crow-on-Sea, and the events of that terrible night are now being published for the first time.

That story is Penance, a dizzying feat of masterful storytelling, where Eliza Clark manoeuvres us through accounts from the inhabitants of this small seaside town. Placing us in the capable hands of journalist Alec Z. Carelli, Clark allows him to construct what he claims is the 'definitive account' of the murder - and what led up to it. Built on hours of interviews with witnesses and family members, painstaking historical research, and most notably, correspondence with the killers themselves, the result is a riveting snapshot of lives rocked by tragedy, and a town left in turmoil.

The only question is: how much of it is true?

'Deeply disturbing and hilarious.' IMOGEN CRIMP
'Insanely propulsive . . . She's a master of structure that Clark.' JENNY MUSTARD


'This will no doubt be THE book of the summer. You need to pre-order this NOW.' @books.with.han
'Once again, Eliza Clark conjures her dark magic to pen something disturbing and addictive.' @mostardentlyalice
'Eliza's writing is pure brilliance and she captivates you with every page.' @zoreadsbooks
'Taking aim at our relationship with true crime, the brutality of teenage girls and classicism, it was easily my favourite read of 2023 so far.' @charlotte__reads_
'So cleverly written I am mind blown.' @jordslibrary
'Eliza Clark is a genius.' @mydarkgrace
**Eliza Clark's incendiary debut, Boy Parts, is available now**

'An unmissable banger that you need to preorder immediately.' ALICE SLATER
'You've never read anything like this.' JULIA ARMFIELD

'A meta-meditation on the mysteries, malice, and minutiae of...

Advance Praise

'Eliza Clark is a genius with voice and a master of flipped expectations. Penance astonished me with its breadth, wit and confidence. A wickedly clever deep dive into the nastier corners of the national psyche - you've never ready anything like this.' Julia Armfield

'Will make most readers howl with laughter and/or shut their eyes in horror' Guardian (on Boy Parts)

'Hallucinogenic, electric and sharp, Boy Parts is a whirlwind exploration of gender, class and power.' Jessica Andrews (on Boy Parts)

'Eliza Clark is a genius with voice and a master of flipped expectations. Penance astonished me with its breadth, wit and confidence. A wickedly clever deep dive into the nastier corners of the...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780571371761
PRICE £14.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 57 members

Featured Reviews

I was immediately hooked by the premise and it didn’t disappoint at all, so well executed. I thought the teen girls and their relationships were so well depicted and showed how bullying, gossip and ‘mean girl’ attitudes can quickly escalate to much worse.
The window into true crime podcasts and tumblr felt really authentic and broke up the prose nicely, really enjoyed those sections.
Some parts were uncomfortable to read, but that’s to be expected given the subject matter and I don’t think it was ever gratuitous. I also loved the ‘b’ plot of the Cherry Creek shooting and could have read more of that.
Really enjoyed and can’t wait to see what Clark does next!

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I am so happy that Eliza Clark has delivered another amazing, punchy and frankly horrifying novel! This was gripping, I felt I really got to know and empathise with each character and the world-building was so thorough. I'm looking forward to its release and will be making a video about it closer to the time!

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Thank you NetGalley and the publishers for giving me access to this book! I am a big fan of Eliza Clark’s previous novel, Boy Parts, and I think that I love Penance even more! I’m absolutely OBSESSED with this book! It definitely is a contender for my favourite book of the year so far. I couldn’t stop reading it, it’s so gripping, so different, so well written. I just loved it so much and I’m so excited for the world to get to read it! Such a fab book!

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I raced through Eliza Clark's new book. A very different take than Boy Parts the book presents itself as the 'previously unpublished' controversial true crime book by a journalist and mixes form and medium to create a patchwork of a terrible crime, teenage girlhood and small-town seaside politics. There's much to think about here from the ethics of true crime, the impact of trauma, occult online followings and Brexit politics. One I'll be thinking about for a long time to come.

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woooow. an intoxicating second novel from eliza clark, and my favourite read of the year by far.

'penance' is a journalist's account of the gruesome murder of sixteen-year-old joni, which occured on the eve of the brexit vote, in a northern english seaside town, at the hands of three teenage girls.

constructed of interviews, witness accounts, text exchanges, tumblr posts, podcast transcripts and journalistic musings, this is a book about so many things at once. it explores the true crime industrial complex, the ethics of consuming true crime as entertainment, early tumblr fandoms that were nurtured and followed like religion, internet radicalisation, bullying, small town lore and politics, and the living hell that is teenage girlhood.

clark's research game is strooong in this one; she has constructed a world full of fleshy characters and compulsive plotlines that completely swallowed me whole.

plus, i was Very Much on the ~dark side~ of tumblr* throughout the 2010s (*defo NOT serial killer tumblr) and i'm so interested in reading about this microcosm of old gen z/young millennial adolescence, so that being so central to the narrative was so exciting to me!

i can't wait for everyone to read this book. thanks so much to faber for the arc!

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THIS BOOK! I heard so many amazing things about Eliza Clark so I was ecstatic when I started reading this one. Penance is a novel written from the perspective of Alec Z. Carelli, a former journalist and failed author, writing a book about one of the most tragic and nauseating crimes committed in a small British town. But is his point of view accurate?

I am a sucker for unhinged female protagonists and Clark provides a whole collection of them in this book. The characters are done incredibly well, are extremely detailed, and seem real. The teen girls are described in detail, with all their flaws and unique interests. The novel explores in depth the internet culture, Tumblr, and the deep, dark world of the true crime industry and the toxicity that it bestows on young, not yet mentally fully developed children and teens. What I found especially interesting is the way the author provides a realistic account of the harmful romanticisation of criminals and how this affects young people, who cannot yet comprehend the sheer awfulness of these crimes. I found that the internet is a character in itself in this story. The story is set in the 2010s, which is way before major websites decided to filter their content to cause less harm, where cyberbullying was almost normalized or at least tolerated more than it is now.
Even though the sole focus of this book is the crime itself, I could not help but be in awe at the amazing portrayal of the impact of the internet on young minds and how certain interests, while unique, can lead to terrible consequences.
Please keep in mind, that this book is entirely fictional, however, I found myself researching things that are completely made up because the narrative just felt so real.

Will definitely be picking up more of Eliza Clark books.

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Having loved Boy Parts since I received a proof in early 2020, I had sky high hopes for Clark’s second novel. I am so pleased to report that Penance exceeded my expectations. Its skewering of true crime fandom (particularly the fake podcasts which very obviously parody certain popular podcasts) was excellently done. Narratively this feels more sophisticated than Boy Parts, which I felt was a very self-assured debut that went slightly off the edge towards the end. Not so here, as Penance’s denouement provides a very satisfying conclusion. This deserves to be the book everyone is talking about this summer.

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do you know what happened to her already? did you catch it in the papers? are you local? did you know her?

set against the backdrop of a dreary seaside town, penance recounts the shocking and disturbing murder of joan wilson, who was tortured and set on fire by three of her teenage classmates.

eliza clark is an immensely talented writer and creates an incredibly layered story through use of form. the story unfolds through interviews, podcast transcripts, emails and texts. the writing perfectly captures the chronically online teen era of tumblr, creepypasta, reddit and the impact the internet had during that time period.

penance demonstrates clark’s vast range in writing through multiple perspectives throughout the book. the characters each have such distinct and unique voices, ranging from a washed up journalist to a teenage girl writing fanfic about high school shooters. each perspective tells a different story and each story tells a different “truth” making the reader question themselves at every turn.

clark writes bold, edgy prose that is completely engrossing and impossible to stop reading.
with underlying themes of class, small town mentality, trauma, and teen angst clark tackles extremely heavy subject matters and poses thought provoking questions. do obsessive internet fandoms perpetuate cyclical systems of violence? can anyone ever properly atone for their crimes? how much of non-fiction writing is embellished and at what point does it become fictional?

penance acts as an allegory for the negative impacts and morality of the true crime industrial complex. as the reader becomes more invested in the story clark demonstrates how easily consumable this type of media is and how toxic it can be.

this book absolutely blew my mind and i cannot wait for everyone to read it.

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Cheers to Eliza Clark, a second novel is usually more difficult to connect with from author to audience but I feel this one was on par with her first - Boy Parts.

Set in a small town of Crow-on-Sea in England, Penance follows an ex-journalist as he pieces together the horrific murder of Joan Wilson by her own peers. Blending all types of media, (Tumblr posts, podcasts, interviews, etc. ) this is an impressive piece of fiction set against the addictive backdrop of a faux true crime narrative.

For me, this novel was inescapable. It's messages glaringly obvious to an adult - but to a teenager wanting to be seen and heard, it's extraordinary relatable. Exploring the fathoms of internet and its suffocating depths as a naive and impressionable youth can bring out insidious traits in personality, can we blame social media for these kinds of issues? It's definitely brought the topic to the forefront of my mind.

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I am shocked at this book. Eliza Clark is just phenomenal. I loved Boy Parts and this could not be more different. This reads like true crime and I had to keep telling myself it wasn’t. I will recommend forever.

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I love this!

Absolutely here for books and media that put a spotlight on the true crime fascination and just how weird it is/can become. Add in a mixed media format, different narratives, and past/present timelines - *chefs kiss*.

Penance is a book very much set in the early 2010s and Clark knows what she is talking about - for a book that is so steeped in Tumblr culture it could have gone wrong, but I'm glad to say it hit the tone exactly.

A book about bullying, popularity, idolisation, radicalisation and being a teenage girl.

My words can't do it justice.

This will be one of my favourites of the year and I can't wait to talk about it (i.e. listen to people who can properly articulate their opinions on this) on release!

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Penance is a novel masquerading as a true crime book written by a disgraced journalist, exploring the murder of a sixteen year old by three other teenage girls in a run down seaside resort in North Yorkshire. Nearly a decade ago, Crow-on-Sea was rocked by the murder of Joan Wilson in a beach chalet by three girls. Now, journalist Alec Z. Carelli is publishing his book about this murder, the apparent definitive account based on staying in the town, interviewing those connected to the victim and perpetrators, and getting an insight into their lives and social media accounts. The thing is, is he really telling the true story?

After Boy Parts, it is easy to anticipate something exciting from Eliza Clark, and Penance goes in a very different direction, but definitely lived up to my expectations. It is entirely written in true crime framing, with the journalist's book and a follow up interview, and this is very effective in getting across the complexity of true crime and what counts as entertainment, research, and factual content. Carelli's book is a mixture of his descriptions of interviews and research, snippets from podcasts and social media posts, and dramatised sections that describe events as if in a novel or similar, and these all weave together to create this vision of what a writer might want to say about something so sensational. The narrative is so gripping, and Clark's writing adapts to the registers that suit each part, that you feel fully engrossed in the story even as you question why it is being told like this.

A really compelling element of Penance is the exploration of teenage girlhood and particularly elements of it that aren't usually turned into novels: strange macabre online obsessions, petty fallings out and friendship changes turning into something much more charged, what it is like to be caught in various stereotypes, particularly in a small town. It is truly a book for people who were too online in the 2000s or 2010s, and though footnotes in the book explain concepts from Tumblr and Livejournal (as if it was a middle-aged journalist explaining them), there's definitely a sense of 'if you know, you know', which is also how the characters seem to feel at times. And it is packed full of little details that make it all come together (for example, one of the girls has a harmless blog where she's obsessed with musicals and Glee, rather than an edgy blog about death or killers). Filtering this all through the journalist Carelli gives it an extra layer, this middle-aged man trying to understand teenage girls (and with his own motivations too).

Turning some of the darkest elements of teenage internet culture, serial killer fandoms, into a literary fiction novel is definitely a choice and it pays off, offering something that is disturbing but also feels like something you could definitely find online without much effort. It forces people to question some of the lines between these kinds of content—true crime books and podcasts, serial killer fanfiction, etc—to see that it isn't always an easy 'this one is okay and this one is terrible', but that everything is going to be tinged with personal opinion, motivation, and perspectives.

Also woven in are some very British elements, like in Boy Parts: the backdrop of Brexit and one of the characters having a UKIP father, the class divides in a small town, the legends and histories of a fading seaside town, abuse scandals from former entertainers. It also depicts going to a bog standard British school very well, especially in terms of how different kinds of outsiders function and how difficult it can be for the "misfits" to actually get along when all they have in common is being different (Jayde's story in particular felt packed full of elements straight out of an actual school from that time, like assumptions about your family, being seen as one of the only gay teenagers, and being into sports but not in a cool way). Similarly to in Alison Rumfitt's Tell Me I'm Worthless, there's a sense that Britain itself formed a place for everything in Penance to happen, that it was a malevolent force in some way (or at least helped form the pocket hells that the perpetrators are looking for).

Immediately gripping and also forcing you to question why that is, Penance is both a highly entertaining read and a book that poses a lot of questions, not all answered. The nature of it only being Alec Z. Carelli's book and a follow up interview means you don't really know what actually "happened", as with true crime stories, or if that even really matters. For people who haven't misspent a lot of time on the internet, it might not feel quite so real and immediate, but for me, it was like taking a 2 hour video essay on some old internet drama and turning it into a layered novel about the darkness of teenage girls, the impacts of true crime, and how anything is ever even constructed as "true" in the first place. Plus it might be the first novel I've ever read that mentions Neopets, so that is a win from me.

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This was a very good read. It's quite different from Clark's first novel, Boy Parts, which I also loved, but I think I like his one more. As someone who also grew up in the peak of Tumblr's fandom era, I found this book to be a fascinating analysis of teenage online behaviour and how the line between reality and fantasy can quickly become blurred. From Tumblr anons to fanfiction to headcanons to RPF, this book feels like a relic of the online world for those who came of age in the mid-2010s. Penance resurfaced many memories of this time period that I had forgotten and forced me to reanalyze them from a new, more mature perspective. You really had to be there to understand just how strange this time was for so many teenagers growing up in a time of mass political disarray, climate change, social unrest, and the simultaneous rapid growth of the internet. Clark beautifully captures the feelings of isolation, anxiety, dread, and sorrow felt by so many young people who lived much of this time online.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC.

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Eliza Clark is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting young writers working today.

Her debut, Boy Parts, was not even my favourite book of 2020, but one of my all-time favourite books.

I am so excited to even hear about Penance, but once I heard the premise and structure, I was fizzing with anticipation.

I was absolutely thrilled to be approved for this!

I absolutely love a book which has multiple perspectives, multiple data sources and timelines so I knew I would love this. I’m also a true crime cynic so I felt this was an intriguing concept from my perspective.

This is a book which is about being a teenage girl and it made me remember how brutal it is to be a teenage girl. The friendships, the fallouts, the drama. It’s also of course a story about murder.

I already want to reread this and know it’s going to be huge.

I can’t wait to see what’s next from Eliza Clark.

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I adored Clark's last book, 'Boy Parts', especially for the clarity and boldness of its style, remaining utterly frank and specific in the strangest situations.

Penance continued this for me, with a bold look at the complicity of the audience in a huge and growing genre- true crime.

We begin the book by realising that we are reading another book entirely- the work of a journalist doing a deep dive into the horrific attack on a school girl by three fellow students.

We are led through various pieces of evidence and reportage, including the personal thoughts of the journalist, including how he came to investigate this, and his motivations for doing so.

However, the book is far cleverer than that, acting in itself as a critique of the very text(s) it provides, creating a deeper meta-narrative that makes you as the reader aware that you are, perhaps, also part of the problem.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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A thrilling, innovative novel by an exciting young writer - keen to pick up anything Eliza Clark writes, and I loved being guided through the mire of teenage girlhood and violence by Clark's confident and authoritative voice.

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this was absolutely incredible -- i felt like i was living it. the author gave so many interesting perspectives of each character in the story. new favourite book!!!

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Boy Parts was one of my favourite books in 2021 so I was equally nervous &excited to get my hands on a copy of Penance. Could it possibly live up to my expectations or would I be left feeling meh? Well first things first, Penance is a whole other book to BP but wow does it stack up as a gripping &stomach churning read.

Following the decade old story of the horrific murder of 16 year old Joan Wilson in the tattered seaside town of Crow-on-Sea, Clark looks at the tumultuous life of being a teenage girl, the ever popular true-crime genre &questions the concept of what really is the truth.

While looking at the lives of the girls involved in that infernal night, Eliza shows just how chaotic the reality of teenage female friendship can be. Every single character is richly &meticulously crafted, so much so that I felt my level of empathy &attitude towards each girl fluctuate greatly, creating a constant sense of discomfort. The concept of a ‘pocket hell’ is prominent &Clarks clever portrayal of the girls' dynamics &their experiences could easily be seen as each of their own little pocket hells.

The book is awash with pop culture references. Glimpses of The Sims, Andrew Lloyd Webber &indeed the often depraved rabbit hole of Tumblr were expertly written with a cosy familiarity often taking the harsh edge of the gruesome topic at hand. However, wait for the slapping side eye of the Vance Diamond subplot!

The format is a reality blurring cocktail, part metafiction, part (fictional) true crime story which Clark has executed flawlessly. True crime fans may flinch at Eliza’s gaze but I felt it more explored the premise of truth behind true crime. Whose truth is true? Whose story are these stories to tell?

While it may be quite different to her first novel it equally flaunts the insanely brilliant writing ability of Clark. Another enthralling, ingenious &unsettling page turner.

Read If You Like
•True Crime
•Meta Fiction
•Unreliable Narrators
•Unlikeable Characters

For Fans Of
•True Crime Story
•I Have Some Questions For You
•True Story

Favourite Moment
•The Sims torture dungeon! Didn’t we all remove the swimming pool ladder or lock Winston the butler in the freezer, no?

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This was an incredibly nostalgic read for me, as it follows the lives of teenage girls in a horrible seaside Yorkshire town during the 2010s. It got to a point where I was picturing my own school classrooms for scenes, and the Tumblr drama only added to the nostalgic atmosphere. It captured so much of what I remember from my teen years with complete authenticity, with everything heightened and covered with a grimy filter.

In the form of a true-crime book, it details how three school girls would go on to torture and set fire to one of their classmates on the eve of the Brexit vote. These murderous teens have all been deeply traumatised as their seaside town seems to be a cesspit of right-wing nationalism, corruption, sexual abuse and death. They even have their own version of Jimmy Savile, a family friend to one of the girl's zealously right-wing father, as its rotten cherry on top. Things get more twisted when the girls explore the rabbit hole of true crime fandoms online, with one of them writing some truly horrendous fan fiction of real life school shooters and developing a disturbing kinship with the killers. While two of the girls are tragic but still deeply unpleasant characters, I was the most disappointed with Violet. In a state of desperate loneliness, she allows and even introduces the other girls to extreme ideas that ultimately lead to murder. I feel like her main crime is that of having terrible friends and no will to hold them back just so she doesn't feel so alone. Although I did quite enjoy her Sims murder basement game mod, hilariously dark.

The true-crime commentary was excellent and really delved into why people can become so obsessed with it. The unhinged true-crime fandoms the girls take part in and the very structure of the novel as a book that shines a spotlight on a horrific murder that had been overshadowed by Brexit, highlights the exploitation of such crimes and their victims. I've read some other books that try to explore the same theme, but don't execute with the same level of nuance.

This is a gritty, twisted and yet darkly funny book that you will devour. A nostalgic read for those who were teens in the 2010s and with anyone witness to Tumblr and Discord fandom drama, although I really hope not to this extreme. It will make you remember all the worst bits of being a teenager in this era and laugh at the ridiculous pettiness of it all.

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This book is a standout title for me. The plot was phenomenal told through the biased narrator that can never be fully trusted. The book perfectly critiques the True Crime industry.

Written like a True Crime investigation, the book delves into the case of Joan Wilson’s murder. Journalist Alec Z Carrelli constructs an “true” account of the murder free of bias and sensationalism. Only how can this be true in the form of the True Crime industry. Including interviews, research, discussions with the killers and illustrative version of events. All create a spell binding and horrific tale.

This book was amazing. I adored every second and the psychological description of each characters approach to the murder. Clark truly showed the impact of such a tragic event whilst binding in the horrific impact one’s teen years and social media can have.

Clark artfully created a perfectly plotted story that captures you in its horrendous form of continuous tragedy and disaster. The ending was absolutely phenomenal!

100% best book of the year.

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Penance is stomach-churning. The fact that this is fiction doesn't take away the absolute macabre horror, either. You can consider yourselves warned.

Unusually, for a crime novel, there is no mystery here. The crime is unveiled at the start, and Clark’s story aims to dig deep into the motive.

Our narrator is the author Alec Z Carelli, a journalist who, disgraced in the phone hacking scandal, is now writing true crime. This time, the book is about a murder in Crow-on-Sea, a far past its prime town near Scarborough: Joan Wilson, 16, was killed on the eve of the Brexit vote by schoolgirls she knew well; they kidnapped her, tortured her and then set her on fire.

Gradually we get introduced to the backstory, which, is this even possible!, at times feels even more traumatic than the central heinous criminal act.

Carelli recounts the girls’ previous relationships by comprehensively reconstructing the banalities of school popularity politics and the everyday trials and tribulations of teenage life.

But the sinister turn comes when some of these girls become immersed in online “fandoms” where murderers are put on a pedestal like pop stars. Plus, some girls, including our perps, begin bonding over an elaborately ritualised occult game where they “manifest” harm on “enemies” such as Joan – and steadily, the line between fantasy and reality blurs.

Carelli intertwines this story with that of his own “tireless research” through various media, journal entries, interviews, Tumblr posts and more. At every turn, he unveils a magnitude of hypocrisy and amorality. Carelli secures the cooperation of the girls’ distraught relatives by sharing his grief over his own daughter’s suicide; or, when that fails, he's not beyond turning to outright bullying or harassment.

How much is truth? How much is Carelli constructing for the story selling sensationalism? That's the problem with unreliable narrators. And, sure, is there such a thing as absolute truth here anyway? Or is it an abstract concept only?

Penance is a triumph. An enrapturing read which takes us deep into the extremely troubled mindset of these murderous teenage girls. 4.5⭐

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Penance is a novel about a "true crime" set in not-quite-Bridlington, full of seedy characters and teenage internet creepypasta drama spilling out into the real world. The tabloid hack who's writing the definitive book about the crime is a damaged bereaved parent and his honesty is questionable - what's the real truth?

I ended up listening to the audiobook version of the book and stayed up late to carry on listening because I was so hooked on the story and desperate to know what happened to all the girls.

A highly recommended read.

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This book is a true gem. It's dark, it's twisted, it's sometimes funny. It pokes fun at all the true crime podcasts out there and the people who have an unhealthy obsession with murders.

However, this book is not only centered on the murder, it's also the portrait of a town that seems haunted by all the awful things that have taken place there. It shows the complexities of humans and how their misery can lead to very twisted crimes.

What is truly remarkable about this book is the way it is narrated. Clark plays with form, with unreliable narrators, with the notion of an absolute "truth". You will be left utterly confused and impressed at the same time.

I absolutely love it and will recommend it to my customers !

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Thank you to Netgalley and Faber & Faber for the digital galley in exchange for my honest review.

A work of fiction disguised as a true crime novel written by a fictional author. A journalist named Alec Carelli has been cancelled on Twitter and seeks his next big break to bring himself back into the limelight. Self-absorbed and deceitful, he moves to the town where a grisly murder took place to pull the obscure story from the residents of Crow-on-Sea.

Three high school girls torture and murder one of their own in this coastal town and burn her alive on the beach. The novel skims the torture and killing of the high school student, Joan Wilson, but largely focuses on the rationale and relationships of her killers.

There is skillful character development even when these characters are first introduced to the reader as Girl A, Girl B, and Girl C. Each of their personalities shines through so clearly from the first page.

Girl A is a rich, stupid girl who bullies others for fun, is obsessed with musicals, daughter of a pro-brexit politician, she lost her childhood best friend in a tragic drowning incident at what is now a haunted waterpark, and believes she can communicate with the spirit world.

Girl B is a reluctant and awkward fan of true crime wikipedias, reading enthusiastically about folklore, horror, and reddit creepypasta. She had been best friends with Joan in primary school but was cast aside for the popular girls as they got older. A perpetual loner, she would prefer to obsess about death, scroll tumblr, and torture her Sims online.

Girl C is the ringleader, armed with a traumatic past, purple prosed fanfiction, unchecked violence, and an unhealthy obsession with an Elliot Rodgers type serving time in prison for a mass murder, she abducts and murders Joan Wilson with the assistance of the others. She has a manifesto but it doesn’t make much sense and she acts impulsively, trying to create what she describes as a pocket of hell.

There’s so much lore about fictional true crime that the characters were obsessed with, and folk lore about the town’s history and backstories. It weaves in true elements to the fiction, comparing the fictional Cherry Creek massacre to the Columbine shootings in 1999.

Told using various medias, journal entries, interviews, tumblr posts, and fanfiction.

It has an effect similar to Daisy Jones and the Six, a fictional story told in such a way that it seems like it could be a real event.

Penance explores an individual’s relationship to true crime and public obsession with murder. Simultaneously, exploring cancel culture and ethics through the fictional author.

It was an enrapturing read.

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Eliza Clark is a phenomenal storyteller and this book really shows that. I couldn't put it down and have been recommending it to everyone I speak to! Penance follows a journalist who is writing a novel about a true crime story where 3 teenaged girls murder their fellow student. It goes through the story with accounts from parents, teachers, friends, family members and also scripts from podcasts and other news outlets. In parts you also start to hear about the journalists story in which he lost his own daughter. Unreliable narrator, great plot. Amazing.

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Penance is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I truly couldn’t put it down. Gripping and compelling, the story Clark crafts is fascinating and the way it is told really elevates it. A sobering comment on the true crime trend.

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