The following piece is published as part of our TLM Young Writers series, a dedicated section of The London Magazine‘s website which showcases the work of exceptional young talent aged between 13-21, from the UK and beyond.
All Eyes on Her by L.E. Flynn
All Eyes on Her, L.E. Flynn, Imprint, 384pp, 2020, £7.79 (paperback)
At first glance L.E. Flynn’s latest novel, All Eyes on Her, is an archetypal young adult mystery: Princeton student Mark Forrester dies under suspicious circumstances while on a hike with his girlfriend, high school senior Tabby Cousins. But what differentiates this novel from many of its contemporaries is not its investigation into Tabby’s potential involvement, but rather its exploration of why people are so convinced of her guilt. As the case becomes a nationwide sensation, Tabby is intensely scrutinised by her community and the media. This sets the stage for a psychological thriller that takes a searing look at ‘slut-shaming’ culture, sexist double standards, and media scrutiny of female behaviour.
As Tabby and Mark are notably absent as narrators, determining Tabby’s character and the nature of her relationship with Mark proves to be immensely challenging. Instead, a large number of supporting characters recount conflicting versions of events leading up to Mark’s death. Flynn also presents different formats, including old text messages, diary entries, and online newspaper articles with comments. The reader becomes a judge tasked with reaching a final verdict on who Tabby truly is: an innocent bystander trapped in an abusive relationship or a debauched and cold-hearted killer? As the reader deliberates Mark’s cause of death and the extent of Tabby’s involvement, they have to confront their own implicit bias and preconceived notions of gender roles.
Although the book features a myriad of contradicting descriptions of Tabby, the media diminishes her to a one-dimensional antagonist. In doing so, the media almost becomes a character, as it steers the plot through its influence on public opinion. It creates a stark dichotomy between Mark, the Princeton golden boy, and Tabby, the calculating ‘Blue-Eyed Killer’. These perceptions illustrate how society often prefers to pigeonhole, leaving no room for complexity or moral ambiguity— often to the detriment of young girls. Flynn provides a critical commentary on how sensationalism exploits our biases to distort the truth and spin a narrative:
I see what the media does to girls. It drains them, a collective vampire sucking until its mouth is a ruby smear. It drains out every detail, everything they’ve ever done. It empties the blood and goes for the vital organs. For her lungs, until she can’t breathe. Her brain, until she can’t think. Her heart, until she can’t feel.
The mystery of what happened to Mark Forrester that fateful day and the question of who Tabby is are directly entangled. With the latter remaining unsolved, All Eyes on Her leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Although the open ending is anti-climatic, it is crucial to Flynn’s broader feminist commentary. It shifts the reader’s focus from a fictional crime to the real issue of young girls being prematurely judged and criticised. The irrevocable (albeit frustrating) conclusion is that, even with all eyes on her, Tabby remains enigmatic until the very end.
Amadea Hofmann is 18 years old, currently on a gap year, and due to study law at the London School of Economics in September.
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