Yesterday, The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble debuted from Soho Teen and I’m so excited to be included on the tour for this wonderful book! Below is my review, and we’ve also got a copy up for giveaway thanks to the lovely folks at Soho Teen, so do be sure to check out the details, and good luck!
The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble (Soho Teen,May 14th, 2013)-Jenna Samuels is surely dying. After all, she has a rash on the bottoms of her feet, she can hardly walk ten feet without getting out of breath, her blood cell count is wonky, she’s always cold and thirsty, and her pee is green. Doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong and being fourteen is hard enough as it is without an unexplained illness as an added complication. Her brother, Casey, is a stoner, but he did quick sports to work a second job because frankly, their mom is a mess. She hasn’t been the same since their father left, and now hardly leaves the house, putting Casey and Jenna in the position of having to fend for themselves. One day, after Jenna collapses, Casey puts her in their Prius to drive to the hospital, only to flip the car, ending up in a ditch. After Jenna sees the state that Casey is in, after the crash, she can’t help but think it’s too late for him, but when she wakes up in the hospital, he walks in her room looking better than ever. No more zits, stoner flab, or miasma of defeat. Casey is now the very picture of teenage health. He’s also acting very mysteriously, and Amber, the EMT that claimed to have been at the scene of the accident, has been following them around and nosing into their business. The sorry state of Jenna’s mom is certainly none of Amber’s business, nor is the sorry state of their family in general, with a father that left over 5 years ago, leaving only a short note and a coupon for a local Tex Mex restaurant.
Turns out there’s a pretty good reason for Casey’s transformation, and it has quite a bit to do with the strange little nubs growing out of his back. And feathers. Yep, Casey is an A-word (angels..shhhh) and Amber, as it turns out, is his mentor. Casey was sent back to help Jenna and his family, and maybe even find their father, but it won’t be easy.
I’m notoriously hard on YA, possibly because at my advanced age of 36, it’s hard for me to go back to those seemingly carefree days of my teens. However, I had no problem whatsoever falling under the spell of Jenna Samuels. She has a refreshingly pragmatic voice for such a young girl and her wry observations of people and places had me laughing out loud. The kid’s got a lot on her plate: a mom that can’t function as a person, much less a mother, a brother that, until now, has been a bit of a drain on the family, and she really, really misses her dad, but her fierce spirit shines through, and when she finds out her brother is an angel, she handles it with characteristic aplomb.
There’s a mystery here, and it’s actually a rather smart one, and if it seems as if a few pieces may be missing, keep in mind, this is from the somewhat limited (if whipsmart) viewpoint of an eighth-grader, who is certainly not omniscient, but is very able to make connections when the evidence is presented to her, and she adds more than her share to the investigation into why she’s been so sick and also her mother’s declining health. While the mystery is definitely a high point of the book, it’s really Jenna’s delightful and insightful observations, her struggle with abandonment by her father, and having to take on much more than an eighth-grader should that fuels this charming novel. In fact, Jenna reminds me, fondly,of the astute Ingrid Levin-Hill who is featured in the superb Echo Falls series by Peter Abrahams. A word on the villian: while certainly not without his considerable flaws,he isn’t an over-the-top evil character, and there are plenty of shades of grey to the mystery. Another delightful surprise: other than Casey’s designs on his ex-girlfriend, a cheerleader, there’s no romance in sight in The Sweet Dead Life, at least not for Jenna. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a little romance, but I think it would have detracted from the story considerably, and I was happy to focus on the awesome Jenna and the mystery at hand (in Texas no less!! Come on, I’m a Texas girl, can’t help it.) Now, the book isn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end, but it’s a realistic ending, with a considerable amount of hope for the future in the mix, and plenty of directions for the author to take the story. Consider me a big fan of Jenna and Casey Daniels (and Amber-she’ll grow on you just like she grows on Jenna) and I very much hope a sequel is in the works for this funny, intelligent novel! Joy Preble doesn’t talk down to her young readers, and there’s plenty in The Sweet Dead Life to entertain young and old alike.
Author comments are in a darker gray color for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments