Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

Title: Lessons from a Dead Girl
Author: Jo Knowles
Publisher: Candlewick
Release date: October 9th 2007
Pages: 215
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
Find out more: Amazon ; Goodreads

Goodreads description:
Leah Greene is dead. For Laine, knowing what really happened and the awful feeling that she is, in some way, responsible set her on a journey of painful self-discovery. Yes, she wished for this. She hated Leah that much. Hated her for all the times in the closet, when Leah made her do those things. They were just practicing, Leah said. But why did Leah choose her? Was she special, or just easy to control? And why didn’t Laine make it stop sooner? In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laine is left to explore the devastating lessons Leah taught her, find some meaning in them, and decide whether she can forgive Leah and, ultimately, herself.

First sentence:
Leah Greene is dead.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First off, I love the cover of Lessons from a Dead Girl. I've gotten kind of bored of covers with a pretty model but not much else, and this is a really good alternative - it's incospicuous but creepy, in a good way, just like the actual book.

This book is really different than I thought it'd be. I thought it was going to be about Laine dealing with Leah's death, and struggling to understand what happened when they were kids, but most of the story takes place before Leah's death - basically, the first and last chapters take place after Leah dies, and the rest shows us everything that happened before, starting in 5th grade, when they first became friends. If I'd known how much of the book focusses on Leah and Laine at such a young age, I think I would have been more reluctant to read Lessons from a Dead Girl, just because I like books about protagonists who are roughly my age. But I actually ended up enjoying the book the way it is - reading so much about Leah and Laine's past gives the reader a much better insight into both of the characters and into how their friendship works.

I loved Laine. I felt for her throughout the book - reading about what she has to go through, at such a young age, is heartbreaking, epsecially since we read about it from young, innocent, sweet Laine's point-of-view.

Leah... Oh, Leah. I wanted to feel for her, too - I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but she has some major issues, and what she has to go through is terrible, too. But I still couldn't really feel symapathetic towards her because what she does to Laine is so terrible. She traumatized Laine - she can't trust anyone, always afraid that if she were to become friends with another girl, she might do what Leah did. And even later, when Leah and Laine aren't friends anymore but still see each other occasionally, Leah is just such a bitch, always tormenting Laine about what they did, as if it were Laine's fault and not Leah's. I couldn't muster any sympathy towards Leah, but maybe that's because we only got to read from Laine's perspective - reading about Leah's thoughts and feelings and what made her do what she did would have been fascinating, but Lessons from a Dead Girl is Laine's story, not Leah's.

***This paragraph contains mild spoilers!***
One thing I disliked about Lessons from a Dead Girl is how it made what happened out to be Laine's fault, too. Maybe it's just because we read everything from Laine's point of view and she feels guilty about Leah's death, but a lot of the book talks about why Laine didn't try to stop Leah, or why Leah didn't try to stop Sam, the guy who abused Leah when she was younger. While of course that's something you should think about, too, I didn't like the way it was portrayed, Leah saying that there was some part of them, the victims, who liked what the abusers did to them. Obviously, I'm no expert, but that can't be right. I disliked how that puts part of the blame on the victim, which I think is just wrong. Maybe that's just my impression, though, since for the most part, Lessons from a Dead Girl has a positive message.

The plot, while horrifying, is great. It's fast-paced, and the book was hard to put down. I really like the idea of the "lessons" - each chapter begins with one "lesson" Leah taught Laine. I don't know what it is about this book, but it all feels so real, like it could have happened to anyone which makes it all the more disturbing. The writing is great, too, and the matter-of-factly way Laine describes what she had to go through is heartbreaking.

This book is a very hard read, but definitely worth it. The concept is something I've never heard about before, but it's fascinating. It's a heartbreaking story, but I definitely recommend Lessons from a Dead Girl, and I'll definitely read more by Jo Knowles in the future.


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