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Teen review: Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

My name’s Leo. I’m a ninth grader at Pittsburgh Obama Academy 6-12 (Also known as IB High and formerly Schenley). I’m a genderqueer lesbian mentally ill writer. I’ll be reviewing books, with occasional graphic novels and music — I mostly read fantasy and horror, and listen to various forms of rock.

Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

Laine’s childhood friend, Leah Green, has just died in a terrible accident. The book opens with Laine’s mother delivering the news, which Laine is not surprised by.

However, Laine has been wishing for this for a long time. Leah abused and tormented her for years, and Laine wished to be free of her for most of that time. Now that it’s finally happened, she finds herself having second thoughts. Was she responsible for Leah’s death? And if so, can she really be blamed

The book seeks to answer these questions of Laine’s by reliving her childhood relationship with Leah and the lessons Laine learned from it, up through Leah’s death and the aftermath.

This book is highly emotional, and often painful. The writing isn’t always the greatest, but the themes are powerful and well handled. What exactly drives a teenager to abuse a friend is addressed, while not denying the pain Laine experienced, and the conclusion is satisfying.

The characters are three-dimensional, including Leah, which is a rare element in books that deal with abuse. Knowles doesn’t skate around the realities of teenage life, even when Laine becomes happier with her new friends, although there are some unnecessary moral judgements on an adult character who remains sexually open and possibly promiscuous.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys “this sort of thing,” meaning novels about abuse and mental health problems. It isn’t explicit at all, but if you’re likely to be triggered I’d say you should give this book a pass. It’s a good book, in my top hundred but not in my top ten YA books.

Review by Leo Johnson

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