Review Blog

Jul 25 2017

Ballad for a mad girl by Vikki Wakefield

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Text, 2017. ISBN 9781925355291
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Death. Country towns. Thriller. One night walking across the pipe outside the town, risk-taking Grace has a moment of fear. She has done this many times before, holds the record for getting across, but this time she freezes, the headlights from the kids' cars seem to go off, and she is plunged into darkness after seeing the words Hannah Holt drawn on the underside of the pipe, and one of the Hearts boys must sidle across to help her get back. Hannah disappeared twenty years ago, and although people thought they knew who killed her, William Dean was never charged but killed himself a year later. Grace, the prankster, the girl who cries wolf, feels compelled to find out more about what happened to Hannah Holt and this course seems linked with her own grief for her mother, killed in a road accident two years before. Grace invents a way of getting inside the Holt house, but Mrs Holt suspects her motives, having plenty of oglers come to her door in the past.
So begins a tightly drawn story of compulsion, as Grace feels directed by the dead girl, but trying to tell her friends draws derision as they think it just another of Grace's pranks.
Her father and brother are concerned for her changed appearance and strange behaviour, but they are not coping either after the loss of Grace's mother and more recently, their farm.
This is a gripping read. We share Grace's friends' disbelief at Grace's motives, but are engrossed by the fervour of her attempts to find the truth.
Further complicated when Grace learns that her mother's death was not accidental, Grace must settle things with her friends before she can uncover some of the truths about life in this small town.
Convinced by a psychologist that she is depressed, Grace steels herself to ignore the dreams and voices she hears, but finding a piece from a cigarette packet in the pocket of William Dean's leather jacket sets her off on a different path.
This is a gripping thriller which takes the reader into Grace's mind, following clues that come from the dead girl, but it becomes clear that it is not Hannah directing her obsession. Her friends try to help but are distanced by her odd behavior and although they come to some sort of uneasy peace, the reader knows that Grace will learn to live without them. It is her family that is the mainstay of her existence and once she is able to expose the lie at the base of Hannah's disappearance, they can release the pain and guilt that hangs between them after Grace's mother's death.
I could not put this down, and reread sections after I had finished, so gripped was I about the path taken by Grace in solving the girls's disappearance. I could picture the landscapes so carefully created by Wakefield, walk through the houses with Grace and run over the paddocks to her ailing father.
The striking cover will impel young adults to choose it to read, and they will be stunned by the extraordinary thriller within.
Fran Knight

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