Sunday, June 23, 2013
Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Most middle grade and YA stories about abuse involves a child or young adult and someone who's older. I've never read a book aimed at this age group where this kind of abusive is inflicted by another child. At first, it seemed like Leah was just another bossy child. The one who likes to be in charge and tell everyone else what to do, and Lanie was the follower. But it didn't stop at that. Leah would take Lanie into a closet and tell her they were "practicing" for when they were older. She would kiss her and touch her. Lanie was confused. It doesn't feel right, but it doesn't always feel bad. She knows something is wrong, but cannot tell Leah to stop. Partly because Leah is always the boss, and partly because she doesn't want her to stop.
Years go by and the behavior continues, and Lanie becomes more and more of a submissive character. She has no friends outside Leah. If Leah goes away, she'll have no one. Leah makes Lanie feel like she is the one who's done something wrong. As the girls enter high school, Lanie finally severs their relationship, helped by Leah switching schools. But Leah's hold over Lanie is not actually broken.
Leah had suffered sexual abuse as a young child. No one helped her. Lanie once saw her with her abuser, but didn't ask Lead about it. Leah vented her powerlessness and frustration on Lanie. You want Lanie to stand up for herself and not be afraid of Leah anymore, but you also want Leah to be helped. What she did wasn't right, of course, but she needed help too. Badly.
Leah dying actually seemed like ending the story too neatly. It takes care of the messiness of Leah or Lanie having to tell someone about Leah's abuse. Now Lanie can move on. Her tormentor is gone. So I didn't love the ending. But Lessons From a Dead Girl showed how an abusive relationship can exist between children, and come with all the same feelings of guilt and shame, and how it's just as hard to speak up in a situation with a peer as it might be with an abuser that is older.
Use your judgment when recommending. It deals with a hard topic. Some kids would have a hard time with it, but certainly not all.