Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Dark Story of Friendship and Assault: Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles | Goodreads

Publisher: Candlewick
Release: October 9, 2007
Source: Library
An unflinching story of a troubled friendship — and one girl’s struggle to come to terms with secrets and shame and find her own power to heal.

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.
A dark and difficult-to-read story. A short but dense book that would pack an assault of emotions into a small page count. A novel that would not hesitate to display twisted people, problems, and emotions.

This is what I expected from Lessons from a Dead Girl: what I had been told to expect and what the cover, with its ominous door bathed in deep plum dimness, led me to expect. I prepared myself to turn lead-heavy pages, forcing myself to power through a wonderfully written yet painful narrative.

However, this novel only met half of my expectations—I was right that searing emotions and unflinching writing would take center stage, but I was wrong that the story would prove hard to read. Jo Knowles's writing style and plotting choices keep the story buoyant and make the book a surprisingly quick read, perfectly complementing the dark subject matter.

Lessons from a Dead Girl is told in an extended flashback, with only the first and last chapters taking place after Leah's death; the rest chronicle Laine's relationship with Leah, focusing on the formation of the wounds rather than the healing. Spotlighting the before rather than the after may seem to produce a more intense story, but it actually does the opposite, making the plot seem lighter. At the beginning, we barely get a glimpse of the jaded, untrusting teenager Laine has become before launching into her childhood innocence. From there, Laine's psychological damage from her relationship with Leah progresses bit by bit, and readers get to watch every step of the journey. As a result, readers are never hit with the full weight of Laine's messed-up mind all at once; they get to ease into it chapter by chapter as Leah mangles Laine's confidence more and more. The final product is a story that, while still packed with plenty of emotions, is easier to read than one that drops readers directly into the aftermath of a traumatic event.

The slow build of Laine and Leah's relationship takes place over almost their entire childhood—from the beginning of elementary school to the end of high school—and Knowles's method of condensing several years into a short novel also makes Lessons from a Dead Girl a quick read. Instead of skimming over the ten years that the story spans, the author tells the story in moments, each chapter focusing on a major instance when Laine's relationship with Leah taught her a lesson. Weeks or months can pass between chapters, creating a light and airy narration that helps readers breeze through the author's in-depth portrayal of important, painful moments.

With scarring emotions and a user-friendly narration style, Lessons from a Dead Girl is a perfect fit for everyone, from the reader who is just starting to try stories with hard-hitting subject matter to the seasoned "issue book" reader. Knowles once again proves a talent for empathy on par with the likes of Laurie Halse Anderson, and I will undoubtedly return for the rest of her books. 

1 comment:

  1. I had the same initial thoughts of darkness and hard to read plots after reading that synopsis, but you're review really makes me want to run to the library and pick this up. The gradual reveal of how Laine grew to be so hurt sounds really well done and I'm always up for a fast paced book. Awesome review!

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