ARC Review: Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf


title:  Dead Girls Don't Lie

author:  Jennifer Shaw Wolf 

pages: 352

format: Kindle ARC 

isbn/asin: 978-0802734495

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher--or, of course, Pretty Little Liars.  People looking for a character-driven thriller with a touch of romance and a lot of twists.  

My Ratings Explained

Rachel died at two a.m . . . Three hours after Skyler kissed me for the first time. Forty-five minutes after she sent me her last text.

Jaycee and Rachel were best friends. But that was before. . .before that terrible night at the old house. Before Rachel shut Jaycee out. Before Jaycee chose Skyler over Rachel. Then Rachel is found dead. The police blame a growing gang problem in their small town, but Jaycee is sure it has to do with that night at the old house. Rachel’s text is the first clue—starting Jaycee on a search that leads to a shocking secret. Rachel’s death was no random crime, and Jaycee must figure out who to trust before she can expose the truth.

In the follow-up to her powerful debut, Jennifer Shaw Wolf keeps readers on their toes in another dark, romantic story of murder and secrets.

the basics
"Rachel didn't wear shoes."  A puzzling and pretty beginning to a surprising book.  This book was thrilling, fast-paced, and unexpectedly heartfelt.  It reminded me a lot of The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher in that we start with a broken friendship, a mysterious death, and a best friend set on solving the mystery--what happened?  It's very much its own book, though.  Jaycee is a sheltered girl driven apart from her wild friend.  But now that Rachel is dead, she has to investigate the dark secrets of Rachel's past, the seedy gangland underbelly of her small town, and the dangerous rituals of a cultlike football team.  Mixed up is a great portrayal of racism and classism, and how these not-so-hidden evils can hide truths much closer to home.  Despite a galley filled with huge blocks of ALKJEWNVD*H_@!#NVLKJOIJDLSDKFJ (not kidding), I was mesmerized.  Jaycee transformation from shy and timid to brave and empowered was fun to watch.  The bit of romance is also great, and actually integral to the mystery.  

plot . 4/5
Rachel is dead when we begin.  All we know are hints.  A rift between Rachel and Jaycee.  A drive-by.  A spraypainted symbol.   It seems like a "simple" act of gang violence.  But then Jaycee meets Eduardo, who gives her Rachel's last note--and the start to a dark mystery that goes far beyond gangland violence to dark secrets right at home.  Just like Jaycee, you're never sure whom to trust.  It's a sort of Pretty Little Liars mystery.  Anyone could be the murderer.  Half the town seems to be in on it--and if not, they're turning up their noses because "Rachel was Mexican, and she ran with that crowd, so of course it happened."  It looks at racism and preconceptions in the face and doesn't hold back.  I can't give too much away, but basically you're constantly sniffing out clues and being pulled in one direction or another.  The final twists are so mindblowing, I had whiplash.  

concept . 5/5
I love when authors tackle tough issues in an elegant way, and I definitely got that here.  Through Rachel's murder, Wolf explores some common biases about class and race, particularly the treatment of Latino people.  Then there's the celebrity of football players in small towns, something Americans have been grappling with too much this year.  Alongside that, you get a gripping murder mystery.  Jaycee is obviously underprepared for the world she's entering, so through her eyes you get a very sheltered, open-minded perspective.  

characters . 4/5
The main players are well developed and all steeped in secrets, which makes the thriller part even more suspenseful because anyone could be involved.  Jaycee herself is a bit on the naive side but not in an annoying way.  She's been sheltered by her father and wants to branch out, but also really values being a good girl and playing it safe.  Above all, she's loyal.  Part of her investigation is the process to forgive herself for the help she gave too late.  It's pretty powerful.  Then there's Eduardo, snarky ex-gangbanger who's torn between helping and stomping around gruffly.  I really wish we got more of him, but Jaycee's fear of trusting anyone made it hard for allies to stick around.  Then there's Skyler, whom I want to hug for about a million years.  He's your tortured artist type but with a backbone, and he and his brother have their own secrets that come into play.  And of course the villains.  Because they're portrayed with their own complexity, they don't feel flat.  

style . 4/5
Wolf does a great job of capturing the teenage voice.  Sometimes it gets a little stilted or melodramatic, but for the most part, she nails it.  As I like to say, we get good, clean writing here.  Nothing that really made me go "Wow!", but certainly very polished.  

mechanics . 5/5
Pacing is key in a mystery, and Wolf does it well.  You're always getting new clues and new twists at the right times, so there are never any big lapses or dull points.  

take home message
A murder mystery that explores love and friendship, racism and the dangers in ignoring our own secrets.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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