Nine years ago, Ethan was kidnapped from his front yard, not that he remembers it. Just walked right up to the black van. He was seven years old. Blake, Ethan’s younger brother, remembers—thirteen now, he still holds on to the grief and anger he feels. Blake can’t understand why his brother would just go with the men in the van. But now Ethan’s back with his family, sixteen years old and having lived more than half his life with a mysterious woman named Ellen. Of course, it’s not easy to slide back onto the life he would have lived—Ethan doesn’t remember anything from before he was kidnapped, and tensions rise within the family as Ethan, Blake, their parents, and the “replacement child,” Gracie, age six, try to fit Ethan back into the group and town as if nothing ever happened. Oh, and there’s a girl, too. She and Ethan used to take baths together when they were six. Her name is Cami. Needless to say, Ethan likes her. A lot.
I had a hard time getting into this one, to tell you the truth—after reading Lisa McMann’s first book, Wake, I’ve read three more of hers and keep waiting for that same staccato, fragmented style. It’s present in Dead to You, but it’s not as strong a style as in Wake. Though less obvious, it still carries the story along quickly—it’s dramatic without seeming put-on. The book opens with the family reunion, split across two chapters, and it’s gorgeously descriptive . . . but the next bit, not so much. It wasn’t until the first f-bomb was dropped (maybe should mention—labelled for audiences 14 & up) that I felt the story settle into a rhythm, and I stopped thinking about other things (twenty lines of Ovid to translate, five hundred lines of poetry to be read to a class tomorrow afternoon). At that point, I was fully sucked into Belleville, Minnesota.
Dead to You is definitely a page-turner once you get into it—each chapter leads into the next, and it reads quickly. I don’t have a real sense of the timeline after finishing it–exactly how many days elapse over the course of the novel, for instance—but the vast majority of the plot, I think, occurs over about a month. Things move fast—particularly the romantic aspect of the whole story. It’s funny, because while Ethan is so quickly head-over-heels for this girl he’s just met, constantly reminding us that she’s beautiful and perfect, Cami is the one character who annoys me. I like Ethan: he’s easily impassioned, he has a background story that is gradually revealed, and his straightforward personality makes him upfront about both the good and bad. But Cami is just sort of this perfect person. She makes 150 peanut butter sandwiches for the homeless with her mother every Saturday night and has no flaws. There is no way this person exists.
Dead to You runs about 250 pages and I read it in an afternoon. The loose ends aren’t all wrapped up. We don’t get told who Ellen is, we don’t get any of the details about this girl Tempest Ethan hooked up with and mentions occasionally. Ethan is not interested in explaining everything he remembers about his childhood, which is great, because I wasn’t really interested in reading it. Dead to You is overall a fantastic experiment in character development. My perceptions of characters shifted as more was revealed, because almost nobody is who Ethan assumes them to be on first sight (with the glaring exception of Cami). The concept and plot are vastly entertaining, and Ethan is a character I came to care about. The ending is dramatic, if a bit of an irritating cliff-hanger—particularly since I can’t find any indication of a sequel coming out any time soon. Pick this up for a quick read with an intriguing premise and good writing—but be prepared to be unsatisfied and wish for more.
Kat Alexander is a Figment Reviewer who (clearly) loves to read and comment. She’s active on a number of sites including NaNo, Fiction Press, and FanFiction under aneko24.