Métis author Cherie Dimaline blends horror, humour, and romance in the poignant YA novel Funeral Songs for Dying Girls. Winifred Blight and her dad live in a small apartment over the Winterson Cemetery crematorium with her dog. For Winifred, Winterson is home. Sure, she’s ostracized by her classmates as the weird, morbid cemetery kid, but she’s spent her whole life wandering between headstones, hunting ghosts with her best friend/crush Jack, and dragging her dog around in a wagon. The cemetery is also where her mother is interred. Living there, along with wearing her mother’s old clothes and listening to her record collection, is how Winifred maintains a connection with a woman she never knew.
The summer she turns 16, Winifred’s life at the cemetery is threatened when the cemetery’s owner warns her father that unless business improves, he’ll have to start outsourcing cremations – meaning Winifred and her dad will have to find somewhere else to live and leave her mom behind. A potential solution presents itself shortly after Winifred’s birthday – the manager of a ghost tour company proposes to add the cemetery to their tour, since he’s heard multiple confirmed ghost sightings.
The only issue is that the “sightings” were all of Winifred roaming around the graveyard, accidentally spooking tourists and mourners alike. Though there is a real ghost that shows up and starts haunting her. Winifred has to find a balance between haunting, being haunted, and finally reckoning with the grief she and her dad have carried for years.
Winifred’s first-person narration feels true to life – she is a teenager navigating belonging, grief, and her first loves. Phil, the ghost haunting her graveyard, is similarly depicted in a deeply empathetic way, despite her otherworldliness. The relationship they build is both bittersweet and beautiful. Winifred is lonely and longing for connection, tethered to a place that keeps her and her father stuck in the past. Phil shows her how to move on, even though moving on means leaving Phil behind.
Despite the melancholy atmosphere of the novel, it is ultimately a story of healing. Dimaline has created a rich world of complex characters with a narrative that oscillates from love story to suspense-thriller – sometimes within the same chapter – without any tonal whiplash. Funeral Songs for Dying Girls is a complex exploration of grief, family, and love that will appeal to teens and adults alike.