The bookstore called this week to let me know that my copy of Jo Knowles’s (
) LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL had arrived. I read it in two sittings and… wow. Just wow. This is a beautifully written book. Not an easy book to read, though. In fact, from the perspective of a mom and a teacher, it’s downright scary. But it’s important. And…well…wow.
Laine is an ordinary teenager with a gut-wrenching secret that haunts her from the very first page of LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL and haunts readers long after the last page is turned. The “dead girl” in the title is Laine’s friend Leah — a friend who steals away Laine’s childhood through an abusive relationship that escalates so painfully that you want desperately to step into the book and shout, “NO!”
When I met Jo at the New England SCBWI conference last spring, I told her I was excited to read her book and wondered if my 7th graders would like it. She let me know that it was recommended for ages 14 and up, and she was right. This book is definitely an older YA — one I’d recommend for high school rather than middle school readers. It made me feel anxious and uncomfortable, but it also made me reflect on the nature of friendship and kids — why some of our kids’ friendships can become so frighteningly destructive, and why they don’t turn away.
What makes this book remarkable is the way it portrays the fear, guilt, and confusion of abuse, without completely demonizing the antagonist. At the end of this gut-wrenching story, there remains room for forgiveness and for hope. LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL has a rare gift of being a compelling page-turner and an important novel all at once — a book that teens will tear through in a sitting or two and then think about for years.