Your very first kiss is thrilling – especially when it’s with the dreamy guy you’ve been lusting after for weeks. But it’s a bit difficult to enjoy the occasion with the huge, bloody ghost of the town bully (who tormented you when he was alive) looming over you, demanding to know why he is dead. No one but you can see or hear him, and he just won’t shut up.
Welcome to Maggie Johnson’s unsettling life in author Natasha Deen’s latest YA novel. Maggie’s father owns the funeral parlour in Dead Falls, Alberta, where she has a special job: as a guide to newly departed souls, Maggie helps them let go of their earthy troubles and pass to the great beyond. No one knows her secret except her father and her best friend, Nell. Maggie has to negotiate a path through the sadness and confusion of the dead while trying to finish her homework and appear normal to her other friends. When she discovers that the bully, Serge, was murdered, Maggie must use her detective skills to unravel his desperately unhappy family dynamics and unmask his killer.
This first instalment of a planned series is a great hybrid of horror and mystery (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Veronica Mars), with oodles of potential for humour and terror – and Deen gets the most out of both. Maggie is a wisecracking, savvy teen (except in the kissing department) who faces down cops, principals, ghosts, and demons with gusto. But underneath all the fun, Deen has something important to say about bullying, and how understanding and compassion can lead to forgiveness. Maggie’s attempt to reconcile her desire for revenge with her growing empathy for Serge will resonate with young readers who are struggling with their own moral dilemmas.
Deen’s prose is engaging and energetic. Her vivid, unexpected imagery is evocative, but at times (especially early in the novel) distracts from the narrative. The writing is occasionally a little raw and the pacing somewhat uneven, but Guardian is an exciting read and a promising beginning to a new series.