by Joy Preble
Publisher: Soho Teen
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
“I found out two things today. One, I think I’m dying. And two, my brother is a perv.”
So begins the diary of 14-year-old Jenna Samuels, who is having a very bad eighth-grade year. Her single mother spends all day in bed. Dad vanished when she was eight. Her 16-year-old brother, Casey, tries to hold together what’s left of the family by working two after-school jobs— difficult, as he’s stoned all the time. To make matters worse, Jenna is sick. When she collapses one day, Casey tries to race her to the hospital in their beat-up Prius and crashes instead.
Jenna wakes up in the ER to find Casey beside her. Beatified. Literally. The flab and zits? Gone. Before long, Jenna figures out that Casey didn’t survive the accident at all. He’s an “A-word.” (She can’t bring herself to utter the truth.) Soon they discover that Jenna isn’t just dying: she’s being poisoned. And Casey has been sent back to help solve the mystery that not only holds the key to her survival, but also to their mother’s mysterious depression and father’s disappearance.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I'm getting too old for this.
I could not connect with this book. It tries to be sweet and cute and entertaining, but by the end of it, I just found it annoying. The main issue I had is that this book doesn't know what it wants to be: middle grade or young adult. Jenna is fourteen and a straight-A student in the eighth grade, something that the author really should have thought about a little more; I spent much of the first half of the book wondering why she'd been held back a year. I eventually decided that her grade level was to try to shoehorn this book into the middle grade category. And it's a weird choice, considering the language Jenna uses (she alternates between swearing and using phrases like "apropos of nothing"... seriously, what 14-year-old says "apropos of nothing"?), the fact that the boys in her middle school are potheads, and her best friend dresses like a hooker. Have things really changed that much since I was in the eighth grade? Are 14-year-olds really that grown-up? Or did the author just get it very wrong? (I thought about the characters in another middle grade book as I was reading this. The narrator of Ingrid Law's Savvy is thirteen, just a year younger than Jenna... but Mibs reads more like a child, relatively innocent and homespun, all excited about her yellow birthday dress with the purple sash. There is a huge difference in the apparent ages of Jenna and Mibs... and I'm not sure that there should be, considering it's only one year separating them.)
I also wasn't impressed by the story. It was a little far fetched, but that wasn't what bothered me. What drove me nuts was the fact that the villain was so obvious that I figured it out very early... and then had to slog through the rest of the book, waiting for these knuckleheads to catch up. I also wasn't impressed with the whole angel angle. Jenna's brother died trying to save her, and it was really of little consequence because he was still around. Sure, he can make poop noises and have wings sprout from dark nubs on his shoulder blades (this was probably the most disgusting angel-wing description I've ever read), and he's supposedly now swoon-worthy (for the readers' benefit, obviously), but I thought a pretty heavy situation was glossed over and made light of. Casey is dead. And even by the end of the story, we still don't know much about what's going to happen to him. For the moment, he's still in high school. What... are angels required to get high school diplomas?
The writing was also sub-par. There were lots of typos, and the author couldn't figure out how to pluralize or make possessive a family's last name (there were two mistakes relating to this). There were also too many irrelevant descriptions of what people were wearing; I was reminded of the author's other book, Dreaming Anastasia, where the main character had to mention the love interest's blue eyes more than 30 times (sadly, I'm not exaggerating). I don't know if that kind of repetitiveness would bother most middle-grade readers, but it bothered me. I just wanted Jenna to stop waxing poetic about her boots and get on with the story.
All in all, The Sweet Dead Life is not a great angel book. Nor it is a good mystery. The tone made me think that it was trying to be something like Wendy Mass's Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall, a book which successfully managed to blend humour and the afterlife with a lot more heart. The Sweet Dead Life tried too hard, and came up short in almost every way.
I'm afraid I can't really recommend this one.
Overall: 2.43 out of 5