From Allison Leotta, the “highly entertaining storyteller” (George Pelecanos) who writes “in a style that’s as real as it gets” (USA TODAY), a ripped-from-the-headlines novel featuring prosecutor Anna Curtis at the center of a national story involving campus rape and the disappearance of a young woman.
Emma, a freshman at a Michigan university, has gone missing. She was last seen leaving a bar near the prestigious and secretive fraternity known on campus as “the rape factory.” The main suspect is Dylan Brooks, the son of one of the most powerful politicians in the state. But so far the only clues are pieced-together surveillance footage of Emma leaving the bar that night…and Dylan running down the street after her.
When Anna discovers the video diary Emma kept over her first few months at college, it exposes the history she had with Dylan: she had accused him of rape before disappearing.
Emma’s disappearance gets media attention and support from Title IX activists across the country, but Anna’s investigation hits a wall. Now Anna is looking for something, anything she can use to find Emma alive. But without a body or any physical evidence, she’s under threat from people who tell her to think hard before she ruins the name of an “innocent young man.”
Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.
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This reading group guide for The Last Good Girl includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Allison Leotta. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In Allison Leotta’s fifth novel, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis must race against the clock to find Emily Shapiro, a Tower University freshman who disappears after a night out at a local bar. Months earlier, Emily had accused fellow Tower student Dylan Highsmith—a popular senior and son of Michigan’s lieutenant governor—of drugging and raping her at a party at his fraternity house. Dylan is quickly identified as the lead suspect, but as Anna and her colleagues work to gather evidence in their case against him, they begin to uncover disturbing details about both the young man and his fraternity, Beta Psi, known around campus as the “rape factory.”
With help from her sister, Jody, who is a new mom; FBI agent Sam Randazzo; her boyfriend, Cooper Bolden, an Afghan war veteran; and an unlikely ally inside the fraternity house’s walls, Anna fights against the institutions that aim to block her from finding Emily at every turn. Inspired by recent headlines and filled with of-the-minute details, The Last Good Girl is a searing and page-turning exposé of campus rape and the ways the system forces victims to silence their voices time and again.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Although Emily is missing from the first pages of the novel, we hear her voice through a series of vlogs she recorded for one of her classes. Why did the author choose to insert Emily’s voice so directly into the narrative? How do the chapters told in Emily’s point of view impact your understanding of her character and your ideas about the reasons behind her disappearance?
2. Were you shocked by how Emily is treated—by her fellow students, parents, and campus authorities—after she reports her rape? How do you think universities could change their handling of rape and sexual assault cases to make the process less traumatic for victims? How does the way Emily is treated impact her friendships and her personality?
3. In what ways does Anna herself confront sexism throughout the course of her investigation of Emily’s disappearance? How does Anna handle herself when faced with these situations? Have you ever found yourself in a position where you had to deal with sexism on the job, and, if so, what did you do about it?
4. As she watches students protesting sexual assault on campus by marching down the street carrying their mattresses, Anna is impressed by how savvy Tower University students are in their use of social media to publicize their message and further their agenda. What are some real-world examples of activists taking advantage of new forms of media to advance their causes? How has the art of protest changed since the sit-ins of the ’60s and ’70s?
5. How does the city of Detroit become a character in the novel? Compare the scenes set in Detroit with the scenes set in the tony mansions of Grosse Pointe. How do both settings prove crucial to the story and to Anna unraveling the mystery of Emily’s disappearance?
6. The hazing that the pledges undergo in their efforts to become members of Beta Psi is degrading and is described as dangerous. Were you surprised by the lengths the young men went to in order to join the fraternity? What would you do if faced with similar demands to join a group or organization? Why are the pledges so willing to put themselves through horrifying acts to join the frat? Is it for future connections in the world of business, for the feeling of being a part of something exclusive, or something more?
7. Compare and contrast Cooper Bolden and his younger brother, Wyatt. How does Wyatt change over the course of the novel, and how does Cooper contribute to the decisions that he ends up making in regards to the fraternity?
8. What dangers does Jody risk by going undercover at the frat without notifying Anna in advance? Why is Jody willing to go through such danger to help her sister? Have you ever done anything dangerous or risky to help a loved one?
9. In a lighter subplot of the novel, Anna finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with her former fiancé Jack and her new love interest, Cooper. What are the benefits of a life with Jack, and what are the benefits of a life with Cooper? Do you agree with the decision that Anna makes at the end of the novel? What do you think the future holds for her current relationship, and also for her relationship with the man she did not choose? How does Anna’s choice impact her growing desire to be a mother in the future?
10. Were you surprised by where Anna and Sam find Emily by the end of the novel? Why did Emily do what she did? Do you think her actions are justified after all she has been through?
11. What do you think the future holds for Anna? Will she stay in Michigan; return to Washington, D.C.; or end up somewhere else entirely?
A Conversation with Allison Leotta
Now that you’ve written five novels featuring Anna Curtis, what do you know about her that you didn’t know when you began? How has her character surprised you?
She surprised me when she fell in love with Jack in the first book. I didn’t intend for that to happen. I’m a pretty detailed outliner—at the outset, I know how my stories are going to play out—but all of a sudden there was all this unexpected sexual tension crackling between these two characters. I think, actually, I fell for Jack first, and Anna followed shortly thereafter. I’ve been trying to break them up ever since!
On a more serious note, it’s been satisfying to watch her grow. She started off so green and naive in Law of Attraction. Since then, she’s become a formidable legal adversary. She’s stumbled and fallen, been hurt and disappointed, but mined those experiences for wisdom and strength. I’ve put her through quite a lot the last few years, and was happy to find that she was up for it.
How has your writing process evolved since your first novel? Do you find that anything has gotten easier after five books?
Nothing is easier. But at least now I understand that the hard parts are part of the process. At some point during the writing of each of my books, I said to myself, This is impossible. It will never happen. I’ll never get it done. And then, of course, it got done. So now when I get to the this-is-impossible stage, I understand it’s not actually impossible. That feeling is just part of the process.
Your books always involve very current, ripped-from-the-headlines plots. How do you choose your next topic? Were you already thinking of writing about the issue of campus rape before the University of Virginia article in Rolling Stone came out?
Yes, I was writing The Last Good Girl before that horrible article came out. The Rolling Stone article has done more to set back American sex-crimes prosecutions than much I can think of in recent history. People naturally tend to doubt sex-assault victims. They think rape survivors are more likely to lie than, say, victims of a mugging—which is totally untrue. Sex assaults are fabricated at exactly the same rate as any other crime. But that badly researched article reinforced the unwarranted skepticism toward sex-assault survivors, which advocates have been fighting for decades. Sigh.
As for how I choose my topics: I always have a bunch of ideas percolating, because, unfortunately, there’s always some bad man doing some bad thing. (Sorry, it’s almost always a bad man in my line of work.) There’s plenty of “inspiration” to mull. When it’s time to pull the trigger on a book idea, I talk to my editor, my agent, my husband, and a few trusted friends about these ideas, spinning out how they’d work. After several conversations, I start to get excited about one in particular, and that’s the one I write.
How would you advise universities to improve their sexual-assault reporting procedures? Do you think there is a solution, or is this a problem that won’t go away as higher institutions strive to keep their reported rapes at zero to appeal to potential students and donors?
A few of my sex-crime prosecutor friends and I have actually talked about forming an organization to try to help colleges figure out how to improve their policies. It’s a complicated issue, trying to balance the safety of victims with the rights of suspects. I think we’re heading in the right direction—federal DOJ oversight of campuses has made it a lot harder for colleges to ignore rapes. But we’ve got a long way to go.
The legal process has to be fair, transparent, and consistent. But solutions outside the legal box could have as much of an impact. Some suggest dry campuses—since so many assaults are facilitated by alcohol—while others suggest lowering the drinking age, so that students wouldn’t come to college with no drinking experience and go overboard or binge drink. I’d love to have a study comparing those two models!
Right now, all Greek parties are held in fraternities, not sororities. It’s a throwback rule, totally sexist, and I think it contributes to sexual assaults. I believe holding parties in sororities would change the dynamics, making it much harder for predator boys to use their home turf to prey on vulnerable victims.
Do you keep up with your friends from the world of federal sex-crimes prosecuting? Do they ever give you ideas for your novels?
The friends I made at the USAO are some of my best friends in the world, and will be, I expect, for my entire life. Our relationship is a little bit like that among war vets. We went through the trenches together; experienced something difficult, crazy, harrowing, rewarding; saw each other through tough times, heartbreak, and victories. There are few legal jobs like that.
And, yeah, I shamelessly pick their brains for story ideas. Folks have been very generous in sharing the best and worst of what’s happened to them in any given week. And most everyone wants to have a character named after them. J
Which is more stressful: prosecuting a high level sex-crimes case in front of a judge and jury, or turning in your manuscript on time to your editor?
Ha! Maybe if my editor were cruel and sadistic, I’d be more stressed out, but I’ve been lucky that Lauren Spiegel, the woman who’s edited all five of my books, is terrific. Kind, smart, savvy, funny, a pleasure to work with. Turning in a manuscript is undoubtedly stressful—you know that the whole world can read it and judge you. They say publishing a book is like walking down the street in your underwear. But for pure adrenaline and stress, there’s nothing like prosecuting a sexual predator. I think that’s why I started writing, actually. It was my way of processing everything, of handling that stress.
What do you like to read and watch when you aren’t writing about the intense world of sex-crimes prosecutors?
Crime novels and courtroom dramas, of course! Although now there’s an element of “doing my homework” when I read and watch these. It’s hard to just enjoy the story; now I’m thinking, Ooh, I should have done that! Or, Hm, I could’ve done that better. Or, the worst: Damn, I’ll never be able to do it that well. I’m always picking at the seams, peeking beneath the fabric, analyzing the construction. I love literary fiction, too, though the same problems apply. For true relaxation, I watch The Bachelor. Whoa, wait. I can’t believe I just admitted that. I take it back. I’m . . . um . . . I’m pleading the Fifth.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read another Anna Curtis novel and discuss how Anna has changed over the years. How has her approach to prosecuting cases changed as she’s gotten older and more confident in her role?
2. Visit www.rainn.org to learn how you can volunteer to support rape and sexual abuse victims, advocate for public policy changes, and help raise money to support victims’ rights.
3. Watch the documentary The Hunting Ground, which is about campus sexual assault. What themes are similar to those in the book?
Allison Leotta was a federal sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, DC, for twelve years. In 2011, she left the Justice Department to pursue writing full time. She is the acclaimed author of Law of Attraction, Discretion, Speak of the Devil, A Good Killing, and The Last Good Girl and founder of the award-winning blog, The Prime-Time Crime Review. Leotta lives with her husband, Michael, and their two sons outside of Washington, DC. Visit her online at AllisonLeotta.com.
"A timely look at a subject that's making headlines across the country...entertaining." —Kirkus Reviews
“Fast paced with strong, vivid characters, this installment succeeds as a stand-alone, so readers new to the Anna Curtis series can easily follow. With a focus on a timely, important issue, this will be high on the to-read list of readers who appreciate the works of Lisa Scottoline, Linda A. Fairstein, and Gillian Flynn.” —Library Journal (starred review)
Praise for A GOOD KILLING
A “Best of the Best Summer Books” pick by O, the Oprah Magazine
"A perfect 10 . . . It's too good to miss." —Romance Reviews Today
"Leotta is one of the very best crime writers today." —Linda Fairstein "A delicious tale of suspense that will have readers hurrying to find out what happens but at the same time wanting to savor each page. This highly entertaining thriller shouldn’t be missed." —Library Journal (starred review)
Praise For Allison Leotta
“[Leotta is] a writer exceptionally well-informed about crimes against women … these are smart, tough-minded tales, well worth a look.” —The Washington Post
"Leotta pens romantic suspense detailing street crime in a style that's as real as it gets." —USA Today
“A female John Grisham.” —The Providence Journal
“An assured and authentic voice, and a highly entertaining storyteller.” —George Pelecanos
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