CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 9. . . .November 4, 2016
Dead Girls Society.
New York, NY: Delacorte Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2016.
292 pp., trade hardcover, hardcover lib. bdg & ebook, $23.99 (trade hc.), $25.99 (lib. bdg.).
ISBN 978-0-553-50802-4 (trade hc.), ISBN 978-0-553-50803-1 (lib. bdg.) ISBN 978-0-553-50804-8 (ebook).
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
“I got here first and found this.” Lyla holds out a letter. I grab it from her, then wish I hadn’t when I can’t conceal my shaking hands.
“‘Congratulations,’” I squeak out, reading aloud. I glance up. Lyla nods, and I clear my voice and continue.
You have been selected to be a part of a unique and thrilling experience. Over the next two weeks, each of you will compete in a series of dares. The rules are simple: complete the dare, move to the next round. The winner of the game will take home a grand prize of $100,000. Fail the dare, and you will be eliminated. Tell anyone about the game, and you will be punished. Cheat in the game, and you will be punished. Refuse to play the game?
We think you know what happens.
Of course, we understand that some of you may have some reservations about the legitimacy of this game. To put your minds at ease and to thank you for coming, please accept this gift on behalf of your grateful Society.
Which of you is bravest? Who will take home the prize?
Take the challenge. Play the game. If you dare.
I swallow and look up, catching the same fear on the other girls’ faces that they must see in mine.
Hope is a senior in high school who has been cooped up at home for several weeks due to Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic lung disease. The invitation she receives from the Society seems to be an answer to Hope’s prayers – excitement, adventure and enough cash to make the effort worthwhile. That much money could help her mother pay a lot of the household bills as well as supporting Hope when she heads to college. It doesn’t take long, however, for Hope to realize that the game is something much more serious than simple dares and fun, and it has the potential to become deadly.
Michelle Krys has chosen a main character who appears frail and perhaps not particularly capable thanks to her physical disease. Hope has been so ill for so long that her mother is over-protective, limiting her daughter’s activities in an effort to keep her symptoms from worsening. The series of dares faced by the girls shows both Hope and the readers what can happen when a young woman chooses to push her limits and go beyond her usual comfort zone. Hope surprises even herself with what she is capable of – mentally, emotionally and physically.
There are four other girls who receive similar invitations, and gradually the reader is able to glimpse the personality of each one. Each has some sort of secret in her past and has been blackmailed into playing the Society’s game. The girls fall into four distinct categories, and Krys seems to accept the stereotypes which surround them: the Bad Girl, the Smart Girl, the Rich Girl and the Sporty Girl. Hope, as the fifth member of the group, includes herself as the Sick Girl. Had the girls developed more distinctive personalities readers might have more sympathy for them, particularly near the end when their secrets are revealed and the terrible theme of revenge takes over much of the thrust of the plot. The girls are brought together by the game of dares and must support one another, but it seems unlikely they would ever become the close friends suggested by the novel.
Ethan and Tucker are the main male characters and are used to add a hint of both intrigue and romance to the plot. Hope’s mother, while over-protective, shows a solid and unselfish love for her daughter while Hope’s younger sister Jenny is nicely woven into the plot and has a few secrets of her own which are eventually unearthed by readers.
This young adult novel is a mixture of mystery and psychological thriller which moves along quickly and keeps the reader’s attention, wondering what the next dare might be, whether the girls will survive the game and if there is any chance for them to end the vicious circle. Completing one dare is never enough, and there is always another challenge. The pace and tension are nerve-wracking for characters and readers alike. The novel is filled with surprising and unexpected events, and, although Krys drops a few hints and red herrings, nothing in this whodunit is truly resolved until the very end. And what an ending – Krys has left the door open for a sequel which will undoubtedly please fans of the book.
While the plot is complex and involved, there are times when it seems like the girls are less than real people and more like characters simply created to advance the details of the mystery. They act and react in what sometimes feels like a series of calculated moves. The setting of New Orleans is interesting but really makes little difference to the novel. The story could be placed in almost any part of the world, although changing the setting would somewhat change the details of the various dares faced by the girls.
In Dead Girls Society, Krys introduces some important issues to her young adult readers. Woven throughout the novel is the theme of bullying, showing how insidious it can be among teens and what terrible consequences it can have. Linked to the theme of bullying is that of the revenge sought by the victim, and this becomes an integral part of the novel. Krys includes LGBT characters but does not really explore the theme very deeply. She also includes characters from various social and economic backgrounds, but these details play only a small role in the overall story.
Michelle Krys is a Canadian writer with two other young adult novels to her credit, Hexed and Charmed, and readers can only hope that she continues to provide more excitement and thrills in her future writing career.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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