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Shining Girls: four differences between the book and the Apple TV Plus series

Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura in Shining Girls
Elisabeth Moss and Wagner Moura in Shining Girls (Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Shining Girls, "Cutline," "Evergreen" and "Overnight."

Elisabeth Moss swaps the nightmare Handmaid’s Tale landscape for a time-bending serial killer story in the new Apple TV Plus limited-series crime thriller, Shining Girls. The eight-part series is adapted from Lauren Beukes's best-selling 2013 novel, The Shining Girls. You'll notice the first word of the title has been dropped by showrunner Silka Luisa. This is far from the only change as the source material serves to provide the foundation, but not much else.   

The show begins as Kirby Mazrachi (Moss) is still putting the pieces of her life back together after a brutal assault that almost killed her six years ago. Working as an archivist for the Chicago Sun-Times means she has access to present and past crime reports. When another victim’s wounds match her own she decides it is time to hunt her would-be killer. 

Below are four big differences between the book and the TV adaptation. 

Kirby’s age, name and job 

Elizabeth Moss in Shining Girls

Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls (Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

The opening scene of "Cutline" plays out much like the first chapter of Beukes’ novel, which sees Jamie Bell as the killer Harper approaching a young girl who has set up a circus out of random junk. The conversation is similar (as is his choice to pull the wings from a bumblebee’s body) and he gives her a wooden blue pegasus figure — in the book it is a plastic orange horse. 

The year of this interaction has shifted from 1974 to 1964, which makes Kirby a decade older than the source material as the present-day scenes are still set in 1992. Putting this character in her 30s means the flirtation with Dan is less problematic and gives Kirby a promotion from an intern to an archivist.

Kirby was a college student at the time of the violent assault, which is common knowledge among the Chicago Sun-Times staff because they covered this crime. In contrast, Kirby at the heart of the TV show has managed to keep her traumatic past secret thanks to a name change. 

A detective working the new murder case asks why she chose Kirby Mazrachi (it's revealed in "Evergreen" her real name is Sharon Leads); his comments also suggest she has dramatically altered her look too. All of these elements add to the overall mystery in the TV series and further alienate the protagonist from the world around her.  

Kirby’s changing perspective

Wagner Moura and Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls

Wagner Moura and Elisabeth Moss in Shining Girls (Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Kirby is traumatized by the attack that left her fighting for survival, but in the book she does not experience the same disorientating metaphysical timeline changes. The first time we meet adult Kirby she is writing a list in a notebook about the most mundane things — such as who she lives with and the name of her cat. Perhaps her memory is unreliable, but when her desk at work changes without anyone else realizing it suggests this is more than forgetfulness. 

Alarm bells ring louder when the female medical examiner is replaced by a man midway through an examination to prove Kirby’s scars match the recently discovered body of Julia Madrigal (Karen Rodriguez). No, this is not one colleague taking over from another and Kirby is the only one who experiences these alternatives.

By the end of "Cutline," her cat is now a dog and she lives with her co-worker Marcus (Chris Chalk) and not her mother; turns out Marcus is the husband she didn’t know she had. By the end of the third episode her short hair has somehow grown several inches in the blink of an eye. 

In other unusual occurrences, the killer has not aged in the nearly 30 years since he first met Kirby and he knows exactly what is going to happen. Harper uses his knowledge to instill fear in Julia when he ramps up the stalking before he kills her. The mechanics are not revealed at this early point, but there are hints at some similarities to the time travel function in the book. But why is this impacting who Kirby is married to and what pet she has? This is an entirely new element to the story.

The victims 

Phillipa Soo in Shining Girls

Phillipa Soo in Shining Girls (Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

The names of some of Harper’s victims remain the same but the details about their lives have changed dramatically. Julia Madrigal has gone from being a Canadian student studying economics who was murdered in 1984 to a social worker. She wasn’t killed until 1990 and she has a connection to Harper’s friend Leo (Christopher Denham), a brand new character added to the series. Exactly how Harper is choosing his victims is unclear, but there is nothing to indicate that it matches the book so far. 

This killer likes to leave a foreign object either in or by their body. A matchbook of a bar that doesn’t exist was found in Kirby, whereas in the book it is a monogrammed lighter by her body. 

A locker keychain captured on a 1972 crime scene photo leads Kirby to Dr. Jin-Sook Gwansun (Phillipa Soo) in the present day. Jin-Sook has gone from being a social worker in the novel to a researcher working at the Adler Planetarium. 

In "Cutline" we see how Harper will kill her, but this event hasn’t happened yet. The twisty time travel element becomes more apparent when it is revealed the lockers are new and this keychain definitely didn’t exist in the '70s. 

Dan Velazquez 

Wagner Moura in Shining Girls

Wagner Moura in Shining Girls (Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Book Kirby is assigned to sports reporter Dan as his intern, but she didn’t request this assignment because she loves baseball. Rather, she knows Dan used to cover homicide and this includes her attempted murder. He switched beats after his wife left him and had a health scare — he also no longer drinks. 

Some of these pieces remain, but the reporter is still the Sun-Times crime correspondent even though it is detrimental to his well-being. He drinks too much and this Dan (Wagner Moura) has a 12-year-old son who is definitely a latch-key kid — his ex is an addict and is out of the picture. 

One aspect the two men share is a fondness for Kirby and the desire to help find the man behind these horrific murders. Can Dan and Kirby crack this case before Harper hurts anyone else?  

New episodes of Shining Girls release Fridays on Apple TV Plus.

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.