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Book Review: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez (An ARC giveaway!)

The Excerpt (the beginning paragraphs):
 “The old man across the street is dead.  I don’t know who figured it out or how, but I think he’d been dead for days when they found him.  School has been out for three weeks.  I estimate that would have been the last time I saw him. Alive.

     First the police came, and then the county coroner. We watched, Mom and I and our neighbors who never really talked to the old man, as they wheeled his body away in a black body bag, atop a gurney. The world stood still as they drove him away.  And then, as if someone hit play. it resumed.

     People on our block trickled back into their houses, and Mom went back into ours.  But I sat on our stoop, thinking about the old man. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him since he was taken away four days ago.

     I guess death is funny.  Not ‘haha’ funny, but more like screw-with-your-head funny.  It makes you think strange things.  Like how a person can sort of exist but not at the same time.

     I imagine the old man arriving in front of a blinding light, staring at it with his milky eyes and scowlng. And still another part of me imagines him safe inside his house, at his kitchen table, drinking coffee maybe. But the logical part of my brain tells me the truth, that he’s either at the funeral home, or being loaded onto a hearse, or already in the hearse on his way to the cemetery at the end of our block.

     Living here I should be used to death.  But every time a procession goes by.  I wonder about the person inside the hearse.  Did they live happily but die horribly? Or maybe they lived horribly but died happily? Or worse, maybe they lived horribly and died horribly.

    I look at the old man’s house and try to decide if it looks numb.” – Opening scene to Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Synopsis:
Frenchie Garcia is depressed.  She is about to graduate high school and take off to Chicago with her long time best friend, but everything seems to be changing.  He has started dating the lead singer in a band that just might make it, and as we all know – that changes everything.

But beyond on the normal problems of the changes that accompany the end of high school, there is this: after years of crushing on Andy Cooper, she finally got to spend one amazing night of adventure with him.  She just didn’t realize it would be his last night alive.  Sometime after he left Frenchie that evening, he committed suicide.  And Frenchie is reeling – did she miss something that night? Were there clues? Could she have stopped him?

Which brings us to two important people: Emily Dickinson – no not that Emily Dickson, though Frenchie likes to pretend that it is – and Colin.  When visiting the grave of not the real Emily Dickinson at the cemetery at the end of her street doesn’t help, Frenchie grabs the new guy in her life, Colin, and asks him to go on a night of daring adventure, where she goes back through the steps of that last night with Andy.  Along the way, will she find the answers she is looking for?

The Review:

This is hands down my favorite read so far in 2013 in terms of cutting edge, contemporary fiction and I am going to go out on a limb and say that it could be a real potential Printz winner.  Why?  Well, I am so glad you asked.

THE VOICE.  No, not the TV show. Sanchez captures the voice of Frenchie – and of adolescence and depression and confusion – spot on.  Frenchie is depressed, she is difficult, she is angsty, and at times completely unlikable, and yet because you the reader know why, your heart overflows with compassion for her.  Like John Green and A. S. King, Sanchez creates a spot-on teenage character that has a fabulous voice that is authentic, raw, and completely relateable for teen readers everywhere.

She laughs, “You’re only seventeen.  How can you be having a midlife crisis?”
“Maybe I’m gong to die at thrity or something, in what case, I’m late.” – page 78

In addition, Sanchez captures the fear and anxiety of graduating high school perfectly.  It’s huge! It’s scary! It’s so unknown; bot the thing that all teens wait for and yet, what a terrifying moment, to step off the edge of that cliff into the world of adulthood with new places, new people, and, most teens hope, a new you.  But Frenchie’s moment, her gigantic step off that cliff, is cast under the shadow of guilt and confusion and fear cause by this moment, this one night.  This death is the branch that her shirt catches on and keeps her from moving forward.  She is stuck in this swamp of despair and doesn’t know how to move forward.

“And now, I’ll tell you the only thing that matters. It’s that you make your own future . . . Because the future is like clay, every day you mold it, every day people leave impressions that change its form.  It’s never concrete, it’s always changing.  We might see some things, possibilities, but you are the one who decides what form your life takes.” – page 136

A large portion of DDDLFG takes place in a night as Frenchie relives the moments of THAT night.  In alternating chapters you have the night with Frenchie and Andy and the night with Frenchie and Colin.  This is the perfect storytelling device that allows for a slow unfolding of both nights and the little glimpses into all three characters.  This is definitely the strongest part of DDDLFG and its shining moments.

The only thing that drove me crazy about Frenchie is that she told no one about what really happened, not her best friend, not her parents. No one.  So everyone is king of concerned and frustrated with her behavior with no sympathy towards her.  It’s like an episode of Lost or The Walking Dead, you scream at the characters, just take a moment to talk to each other already.  But no, this is in fact a very realistic thing, because many teens would hold a secret like this inside and try to work through it alone.  So her friends are reacting to one situation, which is an incorrect assumption, and Frenchie is living an entirely different one.  There are some complex relationship issues being played out, and it is also done well.

I give Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia (which may be the longest title ever) 5 out of 5 stars.  Fans of A. S. King will eat this title up I think.  It also reminded me of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. On the quoatability meter, it rocks: there are so many perfectly, written elegantly written sentences that capture the essence of life.  And do I dare? Yes, I dare, fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower will eat it up. And I loved it so much that I contacted the author, Jenny Torres Sanchez, and asked her (no, begged her) to please give me an ARC so I can give it away and let others read it.  So leave a comment (with either a follow back on Twitter or an e-mail) by Friday, April 5th, 2013 to be entered to win this ARC.