A review of White Lady by Jessica Bell

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

White Lady
By Jessica Bell
Vine Leaves Press
Paperback, 298 pages, October 1st 2014, ISBN: 0992509734

Mia’s mother has run off with a wealthy plastic surgeon. In the wake of that desertion, seventeen year old Mia is struggling with a growing eating disorder, anger issues, her father’s passive aggression, and school bullying, but she’s determined to get her life back under control. Meanwhile her father Nash is trying to get over the loss of his wife and start over with his best friend’s ex Sonya, also Mia’s math teacher. Sonya is struggling with her own destroyed marriage, missing husband, a thirst that only seems to be cured by blood, and parental woes. Her son Mick, the school tough guy, is just trying to keep his mother alive as he struggles with his missing father’s demands. White Lady has five different point of views, which might be confusing in a lesser writer’s hands, but Bell handles the different voices with ease, moving deftly between her characters, and weaving in and out of the perspectives in a way that is often tantalizing.

The book is as tightly plotted as any thriller, with a series of twists and a touch of macabre black magic to keep the reader wondering what’s going on, even at the end. Description of life in a high school are believable and detailed, covering not only classroom shenanigans but also the insecurity and intensity of that time period. Both Sonya and Nash are teachers and Mick and Mia students, which lends a neat interplay between the setting and their story as they walk similar corridors. Danger is always lurking and the dramatic irony is brought out well as the characters move through their otherwise domestic circumstances, dealing with the infidelities, diet woes, attractions and repulsions that makes up their days.

Though a strong plot is what drives the book forward, it is characterisation that makes White Lady an engaging read. Mia is particularly well drawn, and the most pervasive voice through the book – her bravado and insecurity as she tries to deal with her mother’s betrayal providing a psychological anchor to the more chaotic story of drug deals and blood lust. It’s around Mia that all of the action pivots, and her pain and subsequent growth is handled smoothly enough for this to be something of a coming-of-age story. That said, there are other characters, like Mia’s mum Celeste, who come across as shallow caricatures – I think she could have been more sympathetic without impacting on the plot. It would also have been good to get more of Mick’s dad/Sonya’s husband, Ibrahim, who is also fairly pivotal, but who remains shadowy and slightly mystical in his influences.  Nevertheless, Mia is a strong enough character to carry the book forward, and the other supporting voices of Sonya, Mick and Nash remain strong.

White Lady is not a story for the faint hearted. There are plenty of disturbing moments in the book, and there’s no transformative quality to the story, despite Mia’s strong character arc. However, for those who love a well-written fast paced, racy thriller whose intensity never falters, White Lady will surely fit the bill.