Review Blog

Dec 08 2009

Lessons from a dead girl by Jo Knowles

cover image

Candlewick Press, 2009.
This short, easy to read novel follows the relationship between two young girls, Lainey and Leah. Having names a bit more different would have made it easier! Laine / Lainey, the awkward and shy type with boyish looks and short hair struggles to make friends. Leah, on the other hand is good looking, smart and outgoing. The storyline is recounted by Laine after Leah invites her to join the 'in' crowd and they become best friends.
The need to be wanted is an overwhelming one as illustrated by this quote from Lainey: 'Any time I start to wonder why on earth Leah Greene wants to be my best friend, I tell myself not to think about it... I feel so deliriously happy ... I'm not no one anymore.'In fifth grade Leah writes 'FF', meaning friends forever in permanent ink on their hands. This childhood promise emerges again and again in the years ahead to trouble Lainey, as she tries to come to terms with becoming an individual in her own right.
The relationship soon becomes more complex as Leah introduces secret sessions in Lainey's closet where they 'play house' kissing and touching all over to 'practice for when we are older'. Afterwards Leah taunts Lainey that she really likes this physical contact, and that is she is abnormal. However it is Leah that always initiates these sessions while Lainey allows it to maintain the friendship. Leah's controlling or bullying actions increase even though she gives little friendship back.
Lainey starts seeking new friends by going to a lot of parties where binge drinking is the main activity. Along the way she meets Web and Jess who teach her the real meaning of friendship. However this forces the controlling Leah over the edge and she reveals all about their physical relationship to all the guests. Leah, while fleeing the party with Lainey driving after, crashes to her death.
Lainey then has to face feelings of guilt as she had grown to hate Leah and secretly wish her dead.
Some issues like the binge drinking and sex at parties are glossed over rather than explored as the author focuses solidly on the dysfunctional friendship between the two major characters. The physical nature of the sexual contact isn't depicted in detail so it shouldn't offend. Many teenagers will relate to some of the controlling and bullying type of behaviour. Teenage girls are largely the audience for this book, but it could be useful as a secondary text for health classes, with its interwoven themes of friendship, sexual abuse and guilt.
Kay Haarsma

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