Suspense Review: The Dead Girl Under the Bleachers

This was an ARC from NetGalley.

The Dead Girl Under the Bleachers, by Donna M. Zadunajsky

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This book actually managed to put me in a reading slump for over a week. It should have been the kind of page-turner that I normally read almost in one sitting, but I ended up slogging through it just to get to the end.

The main problem isn’t the plot, although that part does have its issues. The story centers on three high school girls, one of whom (Scarlet), seems fixated on humiliating other girls and keeping an iron grip on both her social status and on the loyalty of the girl she has picked to be her best friend (Rachel). The third girl is Laura, a childhood friend of Rachel’s who is now definitely not one of the cool crowd. Scarlet, of course, decides to make Laura her next target, Rachel must decide which of the two girls to ally with.

The novel actually opens with the titular dead girl as she’s being chased and then beaten to death. It’s an odd scene, because it’s told in past-tense first-person point of view. As we read her describing how she takes her final breath, we might wonder exactly how this narration can take place. The story then properly begins a month prior to this death scene. Since we don’t know the identity of the dead girl, the main hook of the novel is finding out who is killed, and why.

Aside from various plot holes and inconsistencies, however, the main problem with Dead Girl is the writing: put simply, this novel is in dire need of an editor. The narration switches constantly between past and present tense, sometimes within the same sentence (“A blast of cool air pushes me back, and I almost lost my grip on the door handle.). There is redundancy (“I slipped one leg in the leggings, and then the other,” “After Monday passed, Wednesday arrived,” “[send/read receipts are] a feature on my iPhone that lets the other person know if you’ve read their text.”); bizarre use of metaphor (“swearing like a comedian on stage”); and lazy character descriptions (Laura expressly describes herself as an “outcast”). There are terms that are misused, and too many incomplete sentences to count. All of this really detracts from enjoying what is otherwise a decent plot. Writers have language as their toolkit, and need to either have expertise in using it, or hire someone competent enough to edit errors and inconsistencies.

So I can’t really say I recommend this novel, unless the reader has a lot of patience and doesn’t mind navigating a minefield of bad narration. If the text were to be re-edited, though, it definitely makes for a decent high school thriller.

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