In a small, rural village in India’s largest state, two teenage girls, Padma and Lalli, go missing one evening. A few hours later they are found, hanging from a mango tree in a nearby field. A family member saw them using a mobile phone to call a boy from a nearby village; did he rape and kill them? Or was it an honor killing carried out by the girls’ families?
The Good Girls is a work of narrative journalism that brings in scores of people involved in the case of the two girls — family members, neighbors, police, politicians, and medical staff– to investigate what happened. As Faleiro draws on their accounts, she paints a complicated and frustrating picture of life in this rural area.
I don’t know much about India, apart from the stories that make headlines, and what I hear from friends and colleagues who grew up there but left. The life and society that Faleiro describes in the book largely matched with what I did know, but I was surprised at the customs, beliefs, and practices that still exist, and that enable crimes like these to happen, and to go unpunished (to a large extent). The incompetence that is on display is absolutely staggering at times, for instance when she describes the post-mortem examination done on the girls, which is not carried out by a trained medical professional, but by a sweeper.
I struggled with reading the book for the first third or so, just because of the sheer number of people involved in the story, which made it difficult to keep track of exactly what was happening. But I’m glad I persisted; Faleiro did a great job telling the story of Padma and Lalli, and how rural Indian society with its caste system and useless, corrupt police and politics makes it dangerous to be a girl.