Whenever I read a YA book, I am primarily reading it to satisfy my own love of reading; however, I am also wondering if the book will appeal to my middle school students. While I did find Dead is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez a book that will appeal to middle school readers, I was not impress with the story mainly because I found it contrived.
The Giordano family live in Nightshade, California a town filled with shape shifters, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures. The Giordano’s all have psychic abilities, Mom works with the Nightshade police chief and Daisy, and Poppy are in high school and their sister Rose is in college. Rose dates a werewolf, whose father runs the town’s funeral parlor. Poppy falls in love with a ghost, and Daisy, is dating the police chief’s son. The plot revolves around the murder of a teacher, and a new guy in town Duke, a fortune-teller who claims to be from a long line of gypsies.
There are a couple of reasons why I think Dead is a State of Mind will appeal to a middle school audience and more specifically the female population. First, the book is short at only 175 pages. Secondly, the book contains a host of topics that are currently popular among the YA audience: shape shifters, ghosts, high school, cheerleaders, dating and a mystery. Any one of these topics is a kernel for a good story; unfortunately, put together you have a Chinese hot pot where the flavors that are suppose to blend into a tasty broth ends up without substance.
Personally, I think Perez was trying too hard to create a setting and plot that would work. The blending of all the elements seemed too engineered to be believable. The character development was weak essentially because it is just too difficult to fully narrate all the information about the town, and the unusual variety of the Nightshade’s residents given the length of the book. This left her characterization flat. Every time another character with unique abilities was introduced, it raised another red flag for me until I felt myself groaning. I just kept thinking that there just could not be anything else to throw in when sure enough there was. Had I read the first book of this series, Dead is the New Black, perhaps, I would not have felt so over loaded by the magnitude of all the weird happening is such a small town. Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed by the inordinate amount of abnormal goings on, and I think that any book in a series has the responsibility to help the reader catch up. A writer cannot automatically assume the reader has read his or her first book. While I did not totally dislike the book, and believe that it may appeal to some YA readers, I am not sure that I will pick up the other two books in this series.