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Life After Death
Two young women with recently deceased fathers find themselves immersed in relics of the past: these are the striking parallels between the two novels reviewed below. In Ellen Marie Wiseman’s What She Left Behind, the teenaged heroine is sucked into the past by the journals of another young woman who had been committed to an insane asylum. While in Richard Kadrey’s Dead Set, the relics of the past are altogether more fantastic: vinyl records that appear to contain recordings of a person’s life. But despite the difference in genre, both of these novels are pervaded by their protagonists’ sense of loss, and by the dangers that lurk beneath their journeys into the past.
As for teen appeal–I don’t generally look to other review journals to confirm our opinions, but I happened to notice that both of these books were reviewed by VOYA, which is a fairly rare overlap for us, and obviously points to these books having crossover appeal.
WISEMAN, Ellen Marie. What She Left Behind. 312p. Kensington. Jan. 2014. pap. $15.00. ISBN 9780758278456.
Adult/High School–When 17-year-old Izzy offers to help her foster parents, tasked by the local museum to catalog artifacts in an abandoned insane asylum, she doesn’t expect the overwhelming feeling of terror she gets as she walks through the doors. She is instantly reminded of her mother, who is in jail for killing her father. Ever since that fateful day, she knows that that crazy people like her mother do awful things. Fearful that she too, will go crazy, Izzy keeps to herself and just tries to get along until she can be on her own. But when Izzy finds the journal of Clare, a young woman who was incarcerated in the asylum for defying her father by falling in love with a boy he disapproved of, Izzy learns that “crazy” means different things in different circumstances, and that sometimes what we think is true, is not. Alternating between the stories of Izzy in 2012, and Clare in 1928, Wiseman explores how two strong young women face life after being abandoned to extreme circumstances, prejudices, and social institutions. Clare is determined to find her lover and escape, but time after time she is thwarted by those tasked to care for her. Izzy, certain that she is alone and unwanted, finds that there are those who have already opened their hearts to her, if only she’s willing to open her own heart to them. Give this to students interested in history, psychology, and a great coming-of-age story.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
KADREY, Richard. Dead Set. 320p. Harper Voyager. Nov. 2013. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780062283016.
Adult/High School–With the help of a brother she only sees in her dreams, a teen struggles to reach her recently deceased father in Iphigene, the purgatory where he is trapped. Difficult circumstances force Zoe and her mother to leave their posh suburban home and move to San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin district. Zoe is angry; she finds only refuge in her dreams where she meets and spends time with her “dream brother” Valentine. Hating her life, missing her friends, she cuts school one day and stumbles into a dark, dusty record shop where she finds bins full of the punk music her parents loved. As she explores the shop, she comes across unusual looking discs; they are recordings of people’s lives that allow the user to experience feelings, sights, and sounds as if actually becoming that person. Despite Valentine’s warnings, once Zoe then learns that her father’s life recordings are there, she is driven to pay the increasingly steep price demanded by the shop owner to get closer and closer to her father. Her journey takes her into dangerous territory as she learns the truth about Iphigene and the role she has no idea she is expected to play. This urban fantasy is very cinematic; its powerful world building brilliantly weaves together mythology and current-day realities. Teens will appreciate the tight story and satisfying resolution, as well as the honest portrayal of Zoe’s willingness to pay a high price, regardless of the consequences, to reach her beloved father.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA
About Mark Flowers
Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark
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