Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles

Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Candlewick, 2007

Summary from Goodreads:
Leah Greene is dead. For Laine, knowing what really happened and the awful feeling that she is, in some way, responsible set her on a journey of painful self-discovery. Yes, she wished for this. She hated Leah that much. Hated her for all the times in the closet, when Leah made her do those things. They were just practicing, Leah said. But why did Leah choose her? Was she special, or just easy to control? And why didn’t Laine make it stop sooner? In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laine is left to explore the devastating lessons Leah taught her, find some meaning in them, and decide whether she can forgive Leah and, ultimately, herself.
Disclaimer: this title has been on my to-read list for almost two full years. My library doesn't own it for some reason (we only recently aquired Jumping Off Swings--literally, like maybe four months ago). It's not available as an eBook and you all know how hard it is for me to justify purchasing physical books--if it's not autographed or an automatic LOVE, I won't buy it. But I have waited to read this book for TWO YEARS. It has outlasted dozens of to-read lists. So I finally broke down and bought it not that long ago.

I knew what it was about; obviously the blurb above lets you know this isn't going to be a light, sunny read. What I didn't expect is how much I would love it! Seriously, I'm going to award Lessons from a Dead Girl a ranking on my list of Most-Awesomely-Horrifying-Reads-Of-All-Time. (#1, of course, is Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.) Where on the list, I haven't quite decided, but it does deserve a spot. (Full post on this topic soon!)


We meet Laine just after Leah dies, and spend the book bouncing from past to present as Laine comes to terms with Leah's death. The pair become friends in fifth grade, when popular Leah takes Laine under her social wing for reasons Laine still doesn't understand. The two play together, they enjoy spending time at each other's house...and Leah forces Laine to "practice" sexual acts in this tiny alcove closet in Laine's house. And then makes fun of Laine when she is (understandably) confused about her feelings. Laine ultimately makes the decision to break away from Leah and gives up all hopes of popularity, chosing instead to become almost invisible for most of her high school life.

Leah is never far from Laine's thoughts, though, and she is constantly wondering why Leah is who she is. Here's a girl who wants for nothing; her parents are wealthy and lavish attention on her and her older sister, Brooke. Leah is beautiful--boys want to date her and girls want to be her. But something inside of Leah is broken, although Laine is the only one to realize that. So whenever the girls paths cross, Laine tries to see past Leah's evil barbs to determine what is causing her such terrible pain. Will she ever know for sure, or will she one day just stop caring?

Leah is definitely a girl with problems, problems that we only learn about as Laine does. Jo Knowles makes it easy to see how someone like Leah, with every advantage and opportunity, can still turn out to be so troubled. I alternated between feeling sympathetic towards her, and wanting to punch her in the face for how she treated Laine. Poor, sweet Laine. She's the kind of girl who's just on the edge of the circle, never really fitting in. I can't figure out why, except that she's just too shy to let her personality shine through. And Leah completely sees and abuses that. Lessons from a Dead Girl is a powerful read about how perceptions of friendship can vary from person to person.

Oh! I have to say that this is the first time I can recall seeing my name (with the spelling I use) used for a character in a book. Laine's older sister, Christi, is a secondary character, but still an important part of the story. And I'm happy to report that she's not evil or anything! Sure, she's nasty to Laine sometimes, but she'll stand up for Laine when it's needed, and to me, that's a big sister.

Purchased book.
Enjoy your reading!


  1. I have wanted to read this book for quite a while. Sounds like something which will stay with me long after I have read it.

  2. Wow, I have not heard of this one. Thanks for pointing it out. I just checked any my system owned 4 copies but 3 of them are in "lost"! I find, in YA, books that go missing are ones teens are afraid to check out-we lose sex books, Hopkins novels, etc. Now, this title is on my TBR list.
    PS. I never see "Kristie" in books either, I remember the closest was Kristy in the Babysitters Club. Remember her?

  3. @Blueicegal: Yeah, it's one of those books that keeps you thinking long after you read it.
    @javaintheam: At least your library owns it...and I'm sure that I've seen Kristie somewhere, of course I can't think of any right now! Your spelling and mine are pretty rare, I think!
    Thanks for the comments!


Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.