Dear Ms. Derting,
I greatly enjoyed your debut YA, The Body Finder, about Violet Ambrose, a girl who can sense the presence of corpses. Her story, her supportive relationship with her family, and her blossoming romance with her best friend, Jay, combined to make for an enjoyable read. While your sophomore effort didn’t blow me away as much as I’d hoped it would, it was still worth the wait.
It’s been a few months since the events of The Body Finder, and Violet and Jay are settling into their new relationship. After all, the rules of being an official couple are different from those of being best friends since childhood. Violet is looking forward to enjoying a normal life, or as normal as can be expected when you can sense the dead.
But Violet’s peaceful respite is cut short. A new boy, Mike, and his younger sister have transferred to her school, and soon becomes best friends with Jay. Not a bad thing, except Jay’s now spending all his time with his new friend and hardly any with his girlfriend. To say Violet is jealous is an understatement.
Even more worrisome, Violet has been receiving threatening messages and harassing phone calls. Does she have a stalker? Or is someone after her boyfriend and want her out of the way?
And possibly the most troublesome of all, a woman claiming to be from the FBI keeps wanting to speak to Violet. She wants to know how Violet can pinpoint the locations of missing bodies. The last thing Violet wants is the notice of the police; her uncle is a sheriff and knows about her strange ability, but he keeps it a secret. If the FBI found out, she worries that she’ll become a glorified lab rat.
As with The Body Finder, the part I enjoyed the most about Desires of the Dead were the depiction and exploration of Violet’s relationships. I liked that we see what happens after best friends turn lovers. Violet and Jay have known each other since they were little. They are literally best friends who have known each other their entire lives. But transitioning to being girlfriend and boyfriend is a new realm for them. The rules are different. I thought the new tension between them was very realistic and believable.
Bonus points for Violet being the aggressor in their relationship and wanting to take things to the next level while Jay was hesitant and trying to hold back. In YA, we so often see the reverse, that the girl is being pressured by the guy in all manner of things. But Violet is the instigator and in a time when so many young adult novels have questionable gender and relationship dynamics, it was great to see Violet give her 100%, no doubt or question, assent.
I also liked the introduction of Sara Priest. Violet’s ability has always been a carefully hidden secret, only known to a select trusted few. But it has great potential to be used for good. It was nice to see Violet discover a way to be proud of her ability rather than feel like she was a freak.
Unfortunately, like The Body Finder, I thought the mystery/thriller plot was weak. The connection between new kids, Mike and Megan, Violet’s stalker, and the mystery surrounding their missing mother was too obvious and the resolution very convenient. I found myself very frustrated by those aspects because the scenes from the POV of Violet’s stalker made things so obvious that I honestly wanted to skip them half the time.
I also like the introduction of Rafe because I want Violet to interact with other people who also have unusual abilities. However, that interest is almost nullified by the fear of a developing love triangle. Nothing happens in this book, but I worry that one will be set up in future novels, and I am tired of love triangles. I feel like there’s enough potential conflict between Violet and Jay for them to remain interesting without one, especially with the introduction of Sara Priest and her “project.” I thought that part of the book where they fight over the identity of Violet’s stalker was very realistic. After all, what do you do when you fight with your boyfriend? Talk to your best friend, right? But what do you do when your boyfriend is also your best friend? What do you do then?
Overall, I found Desires of the Dead to be a great read. I just love seeing depictions of positive, healthy relationships in young adult novels. Not only are the parents present, they know about Violet’s ability (it runs in the family) and support her in whatever she chooses to do with it. It’s a sad statement that this is relatively rare in paranormal YA, but I think readers looking for non-emo, paranormal YA featuring a romance based on the friends to lovers trope might find something to like here. B-