Dead Girls by Abigail Tarttelin
Review Copy – Netgalley
When her best friend Billie is found murdered, eleven-year-old Thera – fearless and forthright – considers it her duty to find the killer.
Aided by a Ouija board, Billie’s ghost, and the spirits of four other dead girls, she’s determined to succeed. The trouble with Thera, though, is that she doesn’t always know when to stop – and sometimes there’s a fine line between doing the right thing and doing something very, very bad indeed.
‘We wanted to contact the dead, just to see who was around’
Thera Wilda is 11yrs old, she is mischievous, feisty and full of life! Everyone remarks how she is the clever and practical one out of her bunch of friends.
But none of them know, just how clever she is……
Thera’s bestest truest friend in the whole wide world is Billie. I loved this portrayal of an innocent childhood friendship. They love pop groups, try to grow Nanopets and are completely comfortable in each other’s company! Their latest past time, is attempting to summon the dead via an old Ouija board.
A game that will lead to new encounters for Thera.
‘Come forth, dead things, and speak to us’
The novel opens with best friends Thera and Billie playing in the local area. They follow a man they make-believe to be a Nazi. They are young, innocent and in some ways immature. But it sets the scene of a typical childhood spring day, lounging your days away, making every small scenario a great adventure. Thera is frustrated at being thought of less-than the beautiful Billie. But their friendship just shows to her, how well they compliment one another. That is until one day Billie goes missing…..
‘Sometimes I feel like I am built for the bad times’ – Thera
‘There’s always been magic between Billie and me’
When Billie goes missing, Thera is bereft with loneliness and isolation. She is mocked by other friends and blamed for encouraging Billie to talk to the mysterious ‘walker’ they saw that afternoon. When Thera’s mum blames her in a moment of anger. She decides she needs to contact the dead to summon Billie’s spirit. Aided by her eccentric grandpa and reluctant brother Sam, she begins her investigation.
“Death is near, Thera”
The novel continues to summarise Thera’s investigation and descriptions of the people and events. At times the novel is quite comical, it is a dark form of humour. Which I actually thought works incredibly well with an 11yr old narrator. Thera’s comments are often littered with innocent sweeping generalisations. I found that despite the dark subject matter, Thera did make me giggle many, many times.
‘Poor, rougher people do swear more. That’s what Nan says’
There are also paragraphs written from an unknown university student’s perspective. I wondered if eventually they’d grow to show us an adult Thera. But the author has so many tricks up her sleeve, trying to guess events before they happen is futile.
Thera eventually decides to summon the dead via what she calls, ‘automatic writing’. Where she holds the pen above the paper allowing the spirits to guide the pen. This seems silly, but as she plots her detection, whilst eating tooty frooties, she gets a message….
‘I want to go home
He said he wouldn’t kill me, get me out
Whilst Thera originally intended to just contact Billie, she soon finds herself with a new bunch of ghost friends. Whilst this would frighten or scare most young girls. Thera is nosey, inquisitive and desperate to understand the mind of perverts…..
‘How can you tell a pervert from just a normal man?’
Thera’s investigation leads her to build new friendships, that challenge what she believes in. It also leads her to question her own father’s capability. She has so many questions and suspicions, she begins to confuse even herself.
DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS
The narrator and 1990s era, make Thera’s case seem innocent and light-hearted at times. But the case in question is particularly dark. The story of one girls rape and murder is captured in this unique style. We read Thera’s fears of rape and her questioning of adults and her general confusion of what being a ‘pervert’ entails. The last 20% of the novel is particularly dark and eerie, with a killer twist.
I think the author has done a fantastic job of covering tough issues such as consent, justice and teenage sexuality. Which forces the reader to possibly question their own assumptions of victimhood and villains. I think the Q&A at the end would benefit book groups and can see the great debate this, thought-provoking novel may bring. 5*
Dead Girls is released today! Happy publication day Abigail Tarttelin