Thursday, October 08, 2015

Book Review: Killing the Dead, by Marcus Sedgwick

I hadn't read a World Book Day book in ages. I may have only read one World Book Day book previously - Shop Dead by Kate Cann, which was one of the books in 2001. It's about a girl who is obsessed with shopping and the way she looks, told from the point of view of a guy who takes her on a date. Kate Cann is amazing at writing teenage boys. I remember my sister got it with her voucher (I invariably forgot to use mine). Shop Dead is pretty dark, as is Killing the Dead.

Apparently Killing the Dead has some relationship with The Ghosts of Heaven, one of Marcus Sedgwick's full length novels, or at least they both heavily feature spirals. I didn't want to look into it too much in case of spoilers. I did enjoy Killing the Dead so I'm very intrigued by this and will have to give The Ghosts of Heaven a go.

At first Killing the Dead seemed like an odd choice for a World Book Day book. It's historical fiction, set in an American all-girls boarding school in 1961. I've always thought of World Book Day books as being aimed at reluctant readers, and the setting and time period won't be familiar to most teenagers, as you learn almost nothing about the Sixties at school. But then it got really dark. If there is one thing I believe about teenagers' reading preferences, it's that they love it when things get dark. I did. I still do.

Killing the Dead is set during the aftermath of the death of a schoolgirl, Isobel, and in the run-up to the school's annual Procession Day. We see this time from the perspective of different characters, slowly building up a picture of what Isobel was like and what might have happened. Then there's a twist that contradicts this picture and our assumptions.

I thought that both the build-up and the twist were very well done. It's a very short book - 117 pages of quite large type - and Marcus Sedgwick doesn't have a lot of space for characterisation but I found almost all the characters well-drawn and easy to imagine. There were two exceptions. Isobel is a mystery. Even when we learn what happened, she maintains some mystery, but this seems appropriate - she is, after all, dead. Margot, another schoolgirl, the new Procession Queen, apparently haunted by Isobel's ghost, is also a mystery, but it felt less like she should be. Her personality isn't really detailed until her role in Isobel's death is explained, which works for preserving the mystery, but as I was reading the chapters in the run up to the reveal I felt like I should have more of a handle on her character than I did. I couldn't really imagine what kind of girl she was and why she did things. I was left trying to fill in those gaps for myself without much to go on.

I'd love to discuss Killing the Dead so please let me know what you thought in the comments or tweet me!

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