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Lessons from a Dead Girl Paperback – August 11, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"Knowles does a credible job of exploring friendships, particularly those of girls, in all their complexity and depth." --, November 2007

"The concise, clear style of this short novel belies the sophistication of its subject matter... [Knowles'] characterizations are sharp and nuanced, and she handles Leah, Laine, and the complex dynamic between them with respect and insight." -- School Library Journal, December 2007

"[Readers will] be riveted by this haunting story of a girl's journey to understanding." -- Booklist, December 1, 2007

Spare and evocative prose weaves the story of Leah and Lainey's turbulent and abusive friendship. Fast friends from a young age, Leah is outgoing, "smart, so the teachers love her and . . . beautiful so the boys love her," while Lainey is plain and introspective. During the younger years of their friendship, Leah is sexually abusive to Lainey, claiming that the two are "practicing." As the girls grow older, Lainey pulls away from Leah, confused and hurt by Leah's opprobrious behavior. Lainey falls in with new friends, while Leah becomes self-destructive. Over time, Lainey comes to understand the roots of Leah's odd behavior, but by the time she comes to fully grasp it, it's too late. Clearly and concisely written, Knowles's provoking exploration of children abusing children portrays the tense and finely crafted dynamics between the two girls. Lainey's character is extremely well-developed showing her metamorphosis from hypercritical and withdrawn to self-realized with a focused and knowing clarity. A razor-sharp examination of friendship, abuse and secrets. (Fiction. YA) -- Kirkus, October 1, 2007 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Jo Knowles is the author of the young adult novels Lessons from a Dead Girl, Jumping Off Swings, Pearl, and See You At Harry's. She has a master's degree in children's literature. Some of her awards include the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults, YALSA Quick Picks Top Ten, YALSA's Popular Paperbacks, International Reading Associations Young Adult Choices List, Tayshas List, and Bank Street College's Best Books for Children (Outstanding Merit). Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (August 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763644854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763644857
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By L. K. Messner on November 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Laine is an ordinary teenager with a gut-wrenching secret that haunts her from the very first page of LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL and haunts readers long after the last page is turned. The "dead girl" in the title is Laine's friend Leah -- a friend who steals away Laine's childhood through an abusive relationship that escalates so painfully that you want desperately to step into the book and shout, "NO!"

This book is definitely an older YA -- one I'd recommend for high school rather than middle school readers. It made me feel anxious and uncomfortable, but it also made me reflect on the nature of friendship and kids -- why some of our kids' friendships can become so frighteningly destructive, and why they don't turn away.

What makes this book remarkable is the way is portrays the fear, guilt, and confusion of abuse, without completely demonizing the antagonist. At the end of this gut-wrenching story, there remains room for forgiveness and for hope. LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL has a rare gift of being a compelling page-turner and an important novel all at once -- a book that teens will tear through in a sitting or two and then think about for years.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Eric Luper on January 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
With every turn of the page, Jo Knowles twists the knife yet again. Lessons From a Dead Girl was one of those books that spirals down, down, down, but still you have to read on. The relationship between Leah and Laine reminds us that there is very little black or white--that things are mostly shades of grey. And that we can sometimes find light in the darkest of places. It's rare for a book like this to grab me so forcefully, yet Knowles does it here. I highly recommend this novel and am looking forward to her next!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alpha Reader on January 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
Friendships are meant to drift, not haunt. But since Leah Greene's death, Laine is haunted by the memories of their childhood friendship - by the signs Leah left, the questions Laine didn't ask and the pain of a terrible cycle that was inflicted on both girls.

`Lessons From a Dead Girl' was the 2007 young adult novel from Jo Knowles.

I owe big thanks to Nicole for recommending me this book - but for also forewarning me of its disturbing brilliance. Even with ample warning, I wasn't prepared for `Lessons From a Dead Girl' - but, then again, I don't think any reader will be guarded against the terrible events explored in this book, and that's probably a good thing for the impact Jo Knowles leaves behind.

We meet Laine the day she is told that her childhood best friend, Leah Greene, is dead. They haven't been friends for a long time now - not since Leah developed a reputation she seemed to revel in. But one last explosive confrontation between the girls is haunting Laine as much as the memories from long ago, the ones that are resurfacing with evil intent in the wake of Leah's death.

Laine was never quite sure why Leah chose to be friends with her - Leah was beautiful and popular, her parents were rich and everyone wanted to be her friend, but she chose Laine. But what started as an idyllic friendship, and entry into Leah's beautiful life, soon soured ... Laine's memories take us from the present-day tragedy; to the slow-burning devastation that was Leah and Laine's `dirty' little secret.

Jo Knowles is a beautiful writer, who writes sinister and moving stories. In `Lessons From a Dead Girl' she takes us back to Leah and Laine when they are in primary school. Knowles starts by showing us a normal, healthy friendship ...
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jeannine Atkins on December 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The title suggests this novel won't be a happy-happy read, and the partly closed door on the cover suggests we might want to enter carefully, but who can resist? And once inside this book, the pages turn as fast as that old wooden door. Lessons from a Dead Girl deals with a variety of friendships, but the one at the center, between Laine and Leah, is one complicated by issues of power. Knowles bravely shows the hazards of control and submission played out by some little girls, and how those patterns can haunt their years as teens. She shows the courage it takes to try to break the patterns and the inevitable set backs as one girl grows into knowing herself better, and another stumbles. The writing is pared to what's beautifully necessary. Not one word feels out of place. This novel made me cringe and cry a bit, but also exult. I'll never, ever forget it.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jillian on June 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
If I had to make a list of books that I would highly recommend to anybody, regardless of the age, this would be one of those. And if I had to make another list of books that made an impact that stayed long after I read them, this would most definitely be part of that.

Synopsis: Leah and Laney were best friends since childhood. During the younger years of their friendship, Leah would sexually abuse Lainey to "practice." As they both get older, Lainey starts to wonder more about Leah's real intentions. Feeling betrayed and hurt by her actions in the past, Lainey pulls away from their relationship, which causes Leah to become self-destructive.
Now, Leah Greene is dead. Will Lainey ever find the will to find Leah's reasons and understand them? And along the way, will she ever find a way to forgive her and to forgive, ultimately, herself?

Review: This is a young adult book, but like I said, I highly recommend this to anyone, no matter how old you are.

This story really made me reflect a lot after almost every chapter that I finish. It's not that often that I do that. But this one really made that kind of impact. The theme of abuse comes up often in a lot of novels, but it's rare that the people involved are 1) in the same gender and 2) are even close friends. This was a different nature of friendship and children, showing the destructive side of it.
I can't dwell on it more and talk about how much I liked the book, I just think you should read it. It is not only a page-turner and a fast read, it also deals with a very important issue, often overlooked by many.
Written with clarity and compassion, this is a heart breaking story of betrayal, forgiveness, and growth between friends; neither of them protagonists nor antagonists. Because at the end of the day, we all are somewhat of both after all.
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