Source: Review Copy
Publication: 3 May 2018 from Mantle
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.
Tense, visceral and thought-provoking, Dead Girls is the new novel from Abigail Tarttelin, the critically acclaimed author of Golden Boy.
At the back of Dead Girls, (less of a title, more of a statement) Tarttelin quotes a UNICEF statistic which should make us all step back and think; ‘every ten minutes an adolescent girl dies a violent death’.
There’s a great deal to think about and discuss in this book, which makes it especially appealing to book clubs, but only if they are willing to take on board a book that deals with some very important issues around sexuality, and includes rape and paedophilia.
Dead Girls is viewed entirely through the eyes of Thera, a bright and precocious 11 year old girl whose best and forever friend Billie is found dead by Thera, after having been missing for several days. Thera and Billie had been out together the day Billie disappeared and Thera feels responsible for not seeing Billie all the way home.
Thera and Billie have always been interested in ghosts and ghost stories and have practiced with a Ouija Board as well as automatic writing. At eleven, these things have the power to feel all too real and it is no surprise when Thera decides that this is how she will communicate with the now deceased Billie.
Of course, Thera’s parents won’t discuss with her what actually happened to Billie and their refusal to consider that her naivetydoes not preclude a sensible conversation about Billie’s fate and about her own safety is an indictment of how little children’s voices are heard by adults.
As Thera despairs of the ability of the police to do anything to catch Billie’s killer, she begins her own investigation into Billie’s murder. I have mixed feelings about this book because it raises a whole host of fascinating questions – not least of which is the one about how we manage to teach our children the meaning of such terms as petechial haemorrhaging when they are still too young to know how to spell them. Says something quite strong about our TV culture, I’d suggest.
For Thera, pursuing this investigation is a voyage of self-discovery. As she comes to understand that Billie’s murder had a sexual motive behind it, she has to learn about sexuality through her own exploration.
There are some fabulous passages that deal with Thera’s desire to exploit her own burgeoning sexuality in order to entrap a killer and the way that she involves Nathan, an older boy from a less privileged background who has real trouble reconciling his own sexual desires with what happened to Billie. I enjoyed the interplay between these two and the mixed adolescent feelings that came to the fore were sensitively treated.
Dead Girls is well written, but it is also a very slow burn and I think could have been more tightly edited in the first half, where so much of the book is taken up with Thera’s own narrative, but nothing much actually happens – and this is not a short book. Thera’s naïve narrative also hinders a more chilling and suspenseful atmosphere as she has a tendency to go wading in everywhere with her youthful determination. Having said that, this is definitely a dark and compelling read.
There are some very important themes here as well as being a book that rightly offers women a voice in how to defend themselves. Thera’s ghosts are part of her army of avenging angels. The uncompromising ending comes a bit as a bolt out of the blue, though I can see the logic even if I’m not wholly convinced that’s how it would play out.
Overall, I think this is a very important book and the author is one I would unhesitatingly seek out again.
About Abigail Tarttelin
Abigail Tarttelin, a resident of Hackney, enjoys karaoke, Netflix, tea, learning languages, women-fronted rock bands, and kickarse female characters. She began as an actress, training with the National Youth Theatre and the New York Film Academy school in France. Her writing career began with Flick. Her second novel Golden Boy, published in 7 languages to date, was a recipient of a 2014 American Library Association ALEX award for stories with special importance for teen readers, as well as a finalist for the Best Debut LGBT Fiction LAMBDA Award in the same year. She was also listed as one of the Evening Standard’s ’25 people under 25′, and was a judge at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Dead Girls is her third novel.
You can follow Abigail on Twitter: @ajktarttelin