The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis cover

About the Book

Title: The Initial Insult
Published: 2021
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Cover Story: Cat in the Coal Shute
BFF Charm: No, Hell No, and OH HELLLLLLLL NO
Bonus Factors: Edgar Allen Poe, Tiger King
Factor:
Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Never A Dull Moment With You

Cover Story: Cat in the Coal Shute

This is how I imagine a conversation about this cover would go:

Person 1: *scratches head* “What is going on? Is that crumbled brick? And a panther’s shadow?”
Person 2: “Yes it is, and yes, both of those things are in this story.”
Person 1: “Seems like a bunch of random elements thrown together.”
Person 2: “Yes. Much like the story…”
Person 1: “And even though it seems random and messy, it somehow works?”
Person 2: “Yes. Much like—”

You get it.

The Deal:

Tress Montor’s last name used to mean something in Amonttillado, Ohio, before her parents disappeared forever. Now, she lives with her alcoholic grandfather at his “White Trash Zoo” – a Tiger King-esque attraction on the outskirts of town. Tress has nothing – when she lost her parents, she also lost her home, what little financial security she had, and her best friend, Felicity Turnado.

Felicity has everything that Tress doesn’t. She’s beautiful, rich, and popular, but ever since the car accident when Tress’ parents were taking Felicity home and no one ever saw them again, Felicity has had seizures. Felicity swears she doesn’t remember what happened the night of the wreck, but Tress is determined to get the truth from her.

So one night, during a raging party in a house that’s about to be demolished, Tress chains Felicity inside a coal chute in the basement and begins to seal her inside it, one brick at a time, in an attempt to pry the truth from Felicity. All while the party upstairs gets more out of control, a flu-like illness is spreading quickly through town, and the panther from the Montor Zoo has escaped and is on the prowl. Through alternating points of view and flashbacks between Tress and Felicity (along with some verse-like chapters from the panther’s POV!), we find out how things became bad enough for Tress to want to kill her former best friend.

BFF Charm: No, Hell No, and OH HELLLLLLLL NO

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

At first, it seems like Felicity Turnado might be the villain of this story – despite the fact that she’s being bricked into a coal chute. She’s keeping secrets about the night Tress’ parents disappeared, and she seems to have sold out her former best friend (and her principles) for a shot at popularity. She does some pretty unforgivable things in Tress’ eyes. For me, Felicity’s failings come from a weakness to stand up for what she believes in and an obsession with how others perceive her. Once you’re in your mid-30s it’s hard to sympathize with someone whose biggest fear is being considered uncool in high school.

Meanwhile, there’s Tress. Anyone who gets revenge on their former bestie by bricking them up into a coal chute in the basement of a house that’s gonna be demolished is NO friend of mine. Even if her anger and resentment do seem justified. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but admire Tress. She’s mad, she’s a bitch, and she’s tired of EVERYONE’S bullshit. She’s also learned how to hustle to survive.

And finally, there’s the panther, who recently escaped from the Montor’s White Trash Zoo, speaks in atmospheric verse, and is on the prowl for human flesh. Suffice it to say, the panther will not be getting a slumber party invite from me.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There are a LOT of things happening in this book, but swoon isn’t one of them. Not really, at least. There’s this guy who for years has been helping Felicity keep it a secret that she has seizures – not because they’re dating, but because he’s a genuinely nice guy who understands and wants to help. It’s clear that feelings hath been caught, but not acted on. 

Talky Talk: McMessy

In college, I wrote a short story from a dog’s point of view. Despite having made A’s on every project in that class so far, I made a D on my dog short story. My creative writing professor told me that writing from an animal’s point of view like that doesn’t work. I was offended! I thought my short story had been imaginative! Anyway, I kinda get it now. Because Mindy McGinnis is an unbelievably talented writer, but my professor was right: the panther’s POV just didn’t really work for me. I don’t think that it added anything to a book that was already chock full of STUFF.

Luckily, the panther’s chapters were very short, sometimes just a few words. The majority of the story alternates between Tress and Felicity’s POV’s both in the present and through flashbacks. The reader quickly learns that these two girls and their friendship are MESSY. It’s all so complicated, and they are complicated, and I felt like I was on a rollercoaster of emotions. But then again, isn’t that the Mindy McGinnis way?

Bonus Factor: Edgar Allen Poe

Portrait of writer Edgar Allan Poe

The Initial Insult draws inspiration from a handful of Poe short stories, including The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, and The Masque of the Red Death. There’s also a lot of little EAP Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, for you literary goths looking to have a little fun.

Bonus Factor: Tiger King

Netflix Tiger King Joe Exotic and tiger cub.

I can’t say *for sure* but it certainly FEELS like Mindy McGinnis lived through the Tiger King obsession phase of quarantine like the rest of us.

Factor: Series Starter

Stack of YA book series

I’m telling you because no one told me: this is the first book of a duology. I spent the first 24 hours after finishing this in a sort of PTSD/TEABS combo haze, thinking Mindy McGinnis had done me DIRTY, only to go check out the Goodreads reviews and find it was listed as The Initial Insult #1.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting

It’s a tie! Between all living parents and legal guardians in this whole damn book. CONGRATS, GUYS YOU DID IT!

Relationship Status: Never A Dull Moment With You

Book, you aren’t perfect, but you are unexpected. Your prose is fearless and dark and beautiful, but your story juggled too many plot points. Knowing we’ll get a second date may help tie up some loose sends, but overall I thought you could’ve used a bit more tightening.

A less talented writer may not have been able to pull off a story so full of stuff – multiple points of view, flashbacks, Poe references, murder plots, unsolved mysteries, talking panthers, and a pandemic, just to name a few. But McGinnis’ talent shines brightest when she’s delivering her signature brand of WTFery. The Initial Insult is compulsively readable and will have you biting your nails from page one.

Literary Matchmaking

The Female of the Species

If hardcore, messed-up girls and being personally victimized by Mindy McGinnis is your thing, check out The Female of the Species.

The Fall

If you’re jonesing to read another book inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, check out The Fall by Bethany Griffin.

 

How to Break a Boy

Mean girls at war may not be everyone’s taste, but How to Break a Boy by Laurie Devore was a 5-star read for me.

FTC Full Disclosure: I did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the gross cranberry ones) for writing this review. The Initial Insult is available now.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.