50 pages 1 hour read

Alice Feeney

Good Bad Girl: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


Good Bad Girl is a 2023 literary thriller by Alice Feeney. The novel uses a rotating point-of-view structure to follow the interconnected lives of several women, all of whom have dark secrets, as they become entangled in a murder investigation. Good Bad Girl uses its intricate but fast-paced plot to explore themes of Reimagining the Expectations of Motherhood, Navigating Ambiguous Moralities, and The Plurality of Identity. It is Alice Feeney’s sixth novel. As of 2024, two of her previous thrillers, His & Hers (2020) and Rock, Paper, Scissors (2021), were in production to be made into a film and a television series, respectively.

This guide refers to the 2023 hardcover edition of Good Bad Girl published by Flatiron Books. For the sake of simplicity, the guide refers to the character variously known as Patience, Nellie, and Eleanor simply as “Patience” except in instances where doing so would cause confusion.

Content Warning: The source text and this guide discuss child abduction, postpartum depression, anti-gay bias, murder, and elder abuse.

Plot Summary

The novel begins with an incident that occurred 20 years before the events of the main storyline: the abduction of a baby in a stroller while the woman pushing the stroller had a conversation in a supermarket. Though horrified, the woman with the stroller knew who committed the crime.

In the narrative present, an 80-year-old woman named Edith is visited by her only friend in the care home where she lives—Patience, the kindly 18-year-old cleaner. Edith plans on suing her estranged daughter, Clio, for renting out Edith’s house, and she needs Patience to purchase a few items to do this. After Patience leaves, Edith is visited by Clio, who informs her mother that there’s no longer enough money to keep her in the home, so they must find an alternative. Clio visits Joy Bonetta, the care home’s manager, to see if they can come up with an alternate financing plan. Joy rejects this idea but insinuates that if Clio isn’t able to pay any longer, the care home might be able to kill off her mother. Clio, disturbed by this conversation, leaves.

While cleaning the rooms of other care residents and stealing from them, Patience is caught by Joy, who fires her on the spot. Patience starts to leave, but before she does she remembers that she left something in Edith’s room.

Meanwhile, Patience’s estranged mother, Frankie, leaves her job as a prison librarian for what she believes will be the last time. She has an appointment with Clio, who is a therapist. Frankie arrives at Clio’s house planning to tell Clio about something she did in the past, but before she can, Clio receives a call from the care home letting her know that her mother has disappeared. Clio rushes to the care home, where she encounters DCI Charlotte Chapman, who is there investigating a recent murder: Joy was found dead in a broken elevator. Charlotte informs Clio that someone came to the care home earlier that day impersonating her and that Clio was also overheard threatening Joy—making her a prime suspect.

Edith, meanwhile, meets with Patience, who takes Edith to her apartment. Edith is confused by this: They had worked together to get Edith out of the care home and return Edith to her own home, but Patience insists that for the time being, they’ll be safer in her apartment. Patience rents the space above the Kennedy Art Gallery from the owner, Jude Kennedy, who lets Patience stay there in exchange for the paper cuttings she produces, which he sells in the gallery. Jude enters the apartment early the next morning, and Edith is horrified to overhear his voice, which she recognizes as her estranged son’s: Jude asks Patience whether Edith is dead yet. When Jude leaves, Patience insists this is all a misunderstanding, but Edith doesn’t believe her and leaves the apartment.  

Before leaving Clio’s office, Frankie notices that Clio has a paper cutting that she knows her own daughter made. Frankie’s daughter left their home a year ago when Frankie wouldn’t reveal the truth of her daughter’s parentage as she had promised to on her daughter’s 18th birthday. Frankie takes the cutting and goes to the address printed on the back—the Kennedy Gallery. There, she confronts Jude, who claims he knows nothing of the artist, but Frankie knows he’s lying. After Frankie leaves, Jude is visited by his sister, Clio, who tells him that their mother escaped and changed her will to benefit a stranger—Patience Liddell. Jude is thrilled by this news because he knows Patience; the brother and sister go upstairs to confront Patience, and when Patience tries to flee the room, she’s caught on the way out by Charlotte. Charlotte, who has evidence that Joy caught Patience stealing, arrests Patience.

Charlotte interrogates Patience at the police station. Patience confesses to having stolen from the home but denies killing Joy. Edith, meanwhile, goes to a nearby church, where she disposes of a bloodied statue that she believes was the murder weapon. She returns to Patience’s apartment but finds the place ransacked. She heads to her real home.

When she learns that Patience is in prison, Frankie decides to use her connections to help her daughter. Frankie talks to a young woman named Liberty, who used to be a hacker and might be able to trace the phone that Patience used to leave Frankie a desperate voicemail. Liberty is assigned a new roommate that day who, unbeknownst to her, is Patience.

Edith returns to the place where her old home was and finds that it’s been remade into new apartments. Clio arrives and tells Edith that she had to sell Edith’s house to afford the care home. Clio brings Edith back to her house, and the two women argue about the past; it’s revealed that the woman in the supermarket all those years ago with Edith, who was caring for Clio’s child—a daughter named Eleanor—while Clio dealt with postpartum depression. Edith believes that Patience is this child. Clio believes this is delusional, but when she tells Edith that Patience has been arrested, Edith insists that they go to the police so she can tell them what she knows. Arriving at the police station, Edith insists that she knows who killed Joy and that someone in the care home has been killing elderly residents.

After failing to speak to either the police or Edith (the latter of whom she has been trying to contact since the day of the murder), Frankie drives to Clio’s house and tells Clio that she was the one who stole Clio’s child all those years ago. Just then, Clio receives a phone call telling her that her mother experienced heart failure while speaking to the police. Clio and Frankie drive together to the hospital, where they’re joined by Jude and Charlotte. Charlotte tells them that Edith gave her the information she needed to solve the case. She arrests Jude for working with Joy to murder older residents in the care home. Jude had paid Joy to kill Edith. Charlotte says that Edith also confessed to murdering Joy. Edith dies, and Clio runs out of the hospital.

Frankie, in the hospital parking lot, receives a call from Liberty, who has figured out that Patience is her daughter. Clio stows away in Frankie’s van as Frankie drives to the prison. Patience, unbeknownst to Frankie, has just been released, and Patience gets to the van while Frankie is in prison looking for her. Clio, in the van, takes Patience back to Frankie’s house. Their conversation reveals that Clio paid Patience to look after Edith in the care home and to smuggle Edith out of the home and care for her until Clio could take her mother back to her own home. When Patience tells Clio that she’s been living under an alias and her real name is Nellie—short for Eleanor—Clio finally believes Frankie’s story about having stolen her daughter.

A desperate Frankie returns home and miraculously finds her daughter there. She tells Patience the full truth: that Frankie is also Clio’s daughter, given up for adoption when Clio was a teen. When Frankie turned 18, she went looking for her birth family and eventually found Edith, who turned Frankie away, insisting that Clio had a new child—Patience/Eleanor/Nellie—to focus on. Frankie, worried that Edith and Clio would be terrible mothers, later stole this baby.

Clio goes home and watches the footage from a spy teddy bear that she placed in Edith’s room because she was concerned about the goings-on at the care home. The bear captured the moments right before Joy’s murder. A flashback reveals that Clio caught Joy trying to murder Edith and that Clio tried to restrain Joy. Patience, returning to Edith’s room to get her belongings right after she was fired, bludgeoned Joy to death with a statue while Clio held Joy down.

A year later, Patience—now going by Nellie—has returned to living with Frankie, whom she has forgiven. Clio and Nellie never told Frankie the truth about what happened to Joy, and during a visit from Clio, Nellie thinks that this is for the best because sometimes good people must do bad things.

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