This is why people don’t like other people—because of people like the people in The Party.
Oh, it all starts out innocuous enough. Not-so-happily married Jeff and Kim Sanders allow their 16 year old daughter have some friends over for a sleepover birthday party with cake, pizza and movies. No booze, no drugs, and no porn—because that’s what 16 year old girls are into. Kim is a super strict parent who is a little out to lunch on her daughter’s moral compass. Hannah is not a bad girl, but she’s also desperate to be accepted by some gorgeous, sophisticated classmates. And having a lame-ass birthday party is not the way to gain social standing. So she disobeys (except the porn thing). And one of her friends gets seriously hurt.
The accident causes everything to spiral. The injured girl’s mother, previously considered a nice, albeit, flakey/hippie/vegan mom decides to go after the Sanders and everything they’ve got. She loses herself in revenge, but doesn’t notice. Kim starts swearing and drinking and contemplating an affair. Jeff goes even more all out on his workout routines and starts day drinking. Hannah’s machinations end, but only a little bit. The teenage boys become even more horrible teenage boys. Same for the girls. Cyberbullying reigns. People’s worst sides are revealed. No one is at their best. And no one is blameless—not even the girl who got hurt.
Author Robyn Harding doesn’t let anyone go all out evil, which would definitely happen if this was a TV show instead of a book. Characters keep their humanity and no one goes so far out into crazy land that there is no coming back. That’s the chilling part. As Kim and Jeff frantically wonder right after the accident: how did this happen? They’re good (if slightly white/pretentious/tech industry people). They set rules. They are strict parents who love their kids. HOW did this even happen? There is always danger lurking in normalcy and no one really knows what they’re going to do when something traumatic happens. Small things, small deviations from the “perfect life” suddenly have dire consequences when seen under a new lens. Or, for that matter, when seen by someone else.
Harding uses different perspectives to tell the story. For readers, this is a great tactic because it so clearly demonstrates how one event can be viewed by different people. It’s true in fiction, and it’s true in life. Seriously though. Teenage girls are the worst.