Children's Literacy Round-Up: August 10
Tending to Grace: Kimberly Newton Fusco

Dead Girl Dancing and Dead Girl in Love: Linda Joy Singleton

Books: Dead Girl Dancing and Dead Girl in Love (books 2 and 3 of the Dead Girl trilogy) 
Author: Linda Joy Singleton
Pages: 264, 288
Age Range: 12 and up

Dead Girl DancingLast summer I read and enjoyed Linda Joy Singleton's Dead Girl Walking. I always intended to read the second book in the Dead Girl trilogy, but never quite got around to it. When the publisher sent me book 3 this week, I decided that the books would make perfect back-to-back reading for a hot summer weekend. And I was correct.

The Dead Girl trilogy features Amber, a directionally challenged high school girl who, after a car accident, almost goes "into the light". Except that she makes a wrong turn somewhere. Amber's soul ends up temporarily in another girl's body, while her own body lies in a coma. She learns that her (deceased) Grandma Greta is the coordinator of a program that sends spirits temporarily into people's bodies, while the parties in question are off somewhere mentally healing.

At the end of Book 1, Amber agrees to continue working, if needed, as a "Temp Lifer. Book 2, Dead Girl Dancing, begins with Amber's body still in a coma, and her soul occupying the body of her brand-new boyfriend's sister. Sharayah, four years older than Eli and Amber, is a college student in San Jose. She's become estranged from her family in recent months, and is clearly troubled (drinking and having one-night stands). Amber wakens in Sharayah's body to a hangover, $1200 in cash, and imminent plans to travel to Venice Beach for spring break. 

This time around, Amber's occupation of another body isn't accidental. She learns that there are strict rules governing Temp-Lifers. She even gets a magical user's manual, through which she and her grandmother can communicate. Although she's told that all she has to do is go along with whatever Sharayah's plans were, basically acting as a placeholder, Amber can't resist trying to help Sharayah. But first she has to figure out what trauma caused Sharayah to pull away from her family and old friends and change from being a perfect student to a partying wild child. The situation is further complicated when Amber encounters a "Dark Lifer" (a soul without a body, one who preys on people as way of prolonging a half-life). A Dark Lifer who just might deflect Amber's attention from her potential soulmate, Eli...

Dead Girl in LoveBook 3, Dead Girl in Love, begins immediately following Book 2. Amber has returned briefly to her own body and left the hospital. She agrees to take on one more assignment, because she can't resist the opportunity to help her best friend, Alyce. Grammy Greta, meanwhile, agrees to occupy Amber's body while she's "away". [Why, if Temp-Lifers are really just supposed to be place-holders, Grammy Greta couldn't just take over for Alyce isn't really made clear - but of course then there wouldn't have been much of a story.] Amber learns that Alyce, who she thought she knew completely, has been harboring dark secrets. She also, by being inside the body of her best friend, learns some surprising things about herself.

Amber is a likeable character. She's obsessed with reading self-help books. She refers to them with an endearing (but not annoying) frequency. She loves to eat, and loves her less than skinny body. She's a bit self-absorbed sometimes, but she'll do anything for her friends. She adores her triplet baby sisters, and loves the idea of being in love with Eli. She feels real. I also liked Grammy Greta, and Amber's geeky friend Dustin. Alyce is a bit of a tougher nut to crack (and she's essentially absent during the third book, despite much of it being about her). But she's still a reasonably sympathetic character.

The fact that Singleton has published more than 20 books to date definitely comes across in the Dead Girl books. Not so much in the presence of lyrical passages, but in the absence of any clunky phrases or descriptions. These books slide down easily, like the chocolates that Amber likes so much. Amber's teen voice feels authentic, too. Here are some examples:

"Transforming from a high schooler to a college girl didn't sound bad in theory; being mature and of legal age for a few days could be a cool experience. But being my boyfriend's sister was sooo going to ruin my love life." (Page 2, Dead Girl Dancing)

"I hated waiting. I mean, really hated waiting. To conquer this embarrassing character flaw I'd read a self-help book called Paving the Road to Success through Patience. But there were footnotes and the advice was so boring that I ended up skimming through the chapters, learning only that I really sucked at being patient." (Page 12, Dead Girl Dancing)

 "No denying it any longer--what I felt for Eli was like a giant blanket holding me warm and tight." (Page 50, Dead Girl in Love)

"Walking among rows of flowers, shrubs, and trees with a dead guy who spouted poetry and stole bodies was weird, but finding out that he wanted me to save his soul was weird squared to infinity." (Page 88, Dead Girl in Love)

Oh, I cringed sometimes, seeing Amber do things that I knew were mistakes. But I liked her, and wanted her to succeed. And I thought that Singleton tied together all of the loose threads deftly. I think that teen fans of paranormal fiction will really enjoy these books. The intriguing premise of being in one's own best friend's body, combined with the Freaky Friday aspects of having one's grandmother in one's own body, make Dead Girl in Love my favorite of the trilogy. But I liked all three books, and recommend them.   

Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: 2009
Source of Book: Bought Dead Girl Dancing, received Dead Girl in Love from the publisher (finished copy, original trade paperback)
Other Blog Reviews: Sharon Loves Books and Cats, The Book Reader, Charlotte's Library

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.