Bi Book Club: The Girls Are Never Gone

By Siobhan Ball

November 13, 2022



Photo credit: Pexels/Faruk Tokluoğlu

Following a paranormal podcaster off on her first solo venture, while also navigating her first sapphic romance, Sarah Glenn Marsh's The Girls Are Never Gone is a fun, character-driven horror that goes surprisingly hard on the fear.

After the break up of her long-term relationship also cost her their professional partnership, Dare Chase, co-host of the now former podcast Strange Virginia, is taking the summer to relaunch her career. When a tip-off on her new channel alerted her to the tragic and sinister case of Atheleen Bell, and that the grand historic house she died in is looking for interns to help with its restoration, it's a chance she can't overlook.

Heading off with her ghost hunting equipment and her service dog Waffles, a labrador trained to alert her whenever her blood sugar climbs too high or drops too low, Dare has it all worked out — as long as she can keep the people running the project from figuring out what she's really doing there.

Things are immediately complicated when on arrival she meets Quinn, a fellow intern, daughter of the new owner, and a wlw fantasy brought to life. A gentle, beautiful artist, who loves animals and started a community garden as soon as she arrived on the property, Quinn is so perfect it's almost too much, but instead falls just short and firmly into the sapphic dreamgirl category instead. More importantly, Dare Quinn is also a paranormal enthusiast, and the person who tipped her off to the house and its ghostly goings on in the first place. As much as Quinn loves ghosts and everything supernatural she's also scared, convinced that there's something dark in the house showing an interest in her in particular. With a practical and skeptical mother she's desperate to impress, and who has already dismissed her concerns outright, Quinn is looking to Dare to solve the mystery for her, which only makes Dare more determined to get to the bottom of the drowning of Atheleen Bell and the morbid history of the house.

Unfortunately for Dare, a skeptic who desperately wants to believe, things start to get really spooky really fast, and in a manner she can't explain away with her fancy equipment. With fingermark bruises appearing on the other interns, including Quinn, a hidden room on the landing with a missing key, and foul-smelling, stagnant water finding its way into every corner of the house Quinn begins questioning her own reality — as well as who she can really trust when revelations about the true history of the property throw everyone's motives into doubt.

The Girls are Never Gone is an atmospheric, clever story where the house itself becomes a character in the style of Hill House and other classic horror stories. In particular, the focus on water and its role in the haunting was incredibly well done, slowly revealing itself as part of a malicious supernatural force in a way that makes it hard to pinpoint when exactly you realized what was happening. By contrast, the moment the book becomes genuinely frightening is sudden, switching from cozy supernatural drama to something I wished I wasn't reading late at night in one profoundly unsettling scene. And while some aspects of the ending felt like they were tied together too neatly, the epilogue, presented in the form of Dare's podcast, reveals complicating factors that make the neatness of that ending seem sinister in and of itself.

One thing I appreciated about this novel, and which I know is a concern for many queer horror readers (and stop reading now if you don't want SPOILERS), is that neither wlw character died or turned out to be secretly evil all along, though the justifiable paranoia that events inspire in Dare will have you questioning that along with her at various points in the novel. They're also not subject to a candy-floss style love-will-fix-it-all happy ending, their relationship and its trajectory in the wake of what they went through feels believable, with the Marsh's leaving things on a hopeful note.

Marsh is herself a type 1 diabetic, and it shows in her depiction not just in how diabetes impacts Dare's life but in the way Dare thinks and feels about it. Seeing Dare become more comfortable in herself and in letting other people know about, and see the visible elements of her disability was a nice subthread in the overall plot. The handling of Dare's slightly incompetent service dog was a little uncomfortable to read, however. Dare considers herself to be exploiting his service dog status when she uses that to bring him along, as he's bad at his job and she can manage without him, but it's unclear if it's her own internalized ableism that has her think that way or if he really is more of a pet.

The novel's bi representation is generally good. I found the idea that Dare had known she was bi for years but had never had a crush on a girl before, to the point that she was questioning whether or not that was what was really going on, a little strange. However, our experiences of sexuality and the ways we came to understand it are all so individual and varied it's possible other bi people will read this and understand exactly the experience Marsh is describing. Overall the depiction of Dare's bisexuality as a well-established facet of her identity was well done, with her ex-boyfriend and her growing feelings for Quinn feeling equally real and not inspiring some kind of token crisis as often happens in "first girl crush" stories.

If you're looking for a story that's sweet and unsettling by turns, with a self-assured bi character where none of the conflicts revolves around biphobia or homophobia then I can thoroughly recommend The Girls Are Never Gone.


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