Lessons from a dead girl by Jo Knowles
Candlewick, 2007

Beautiful, popular Leah takes awkward Laine under her wing when they are in fifth grade and declares them to be friends forever. Laine is confused by the attention but happily goes along with it.  Laine even goes along with Leah's insistence that they secretly "practice" for marriage together, although Laine becomes increasingly confused by what it means about her relationship with Leah. While the girls grow apart as they enter high school, Leah maintains a powerful hold over Laine until a public confrontation results in tragedy.

Knowles tackles the topic of sexual abuse between children head-on, and she does it with a remarkably delicate touch while pulling no punches. Laine's confusion and desperation to keep Leah happy, as well as the tension between Laine and Leah in the years after their "practice" ends, are well-rendered. Although there are certainly scenes that are uncomfortable as a reader, nothing is graphically presented and the narrative focuses primarily on the emotions of the characters, especially Laine as the novel is from her point of view.

Leah and Laine are three-dimensional characters with specific and evident motivations, and their respective evolutions as they grow into teenagers are unsurprising but nonetheless poignant. Although I know very little about this topic, it would appear that the author did a good deal of research to create such believable characters, and this novel was an emotional and educational introduction to the subject and will not soon be forgotten.


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