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Being Dead
Vivian Vande Velde
Harcourt, 205 pages


Tristan Elwell
Being Dead
Vivian Vande Velde
Vivian Vande Velde is the author of Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, A Hidden Magic, The Conjurer Princess, and many other fine fantasy novels. She lives with her husband and daughter in Rochester, New York.

ISFDB Bibliography
Vivian Vande Velde Bibliography
SF Site Review: Magic Can Be Murder
SF Site Review: Never Trust a Dead Man
SF Site Review: The Conjurer Princess
SF Site Review: A Coming Evil

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Vivian Vande Velde is best known for her Young Adult fiction, most of it fantasy, although she has written some Adult fiction as well. Being Dead is a new collection of ghost stories, definitely Young Adult in tone (and marketed as such), but appealing to adult readers as well. The seven stories are mostly quite dark in tone, as might be expected from the subject matter, and rather uncompromising in facing death as a reality, not as something easily escaped. The telling is straightforward, as with much YA fiction, but affecting and often surprising. This is a solid if not exceptional collection.

There are three longer stories. The opening piece, "Drop by Drop," is the most shocking, I think. A 16-year-old girl, depressed because her family is moving to the country, away from her friends, encounters at her new house the ghost of a younger girl, who seems to show up whenever water is involved. The surprise ending is well foreshadowed, and quite effective. The closing story is a bit lighter: "Being Dead" concerns a newspaper boy at the time of the Crash in New York City, who is gruesomely killed by a man jumping out of a high window. The boy is immediately offered what appears to be heaven -- but he has some unfinished business. Nice but rather slight. And "Shadow Brother" deals rather depressingly with the Vietnam War, and the narrator's brother and father, and the effect on the latter of the former's death in the War.

The shorter stories include two short-shorts: "Marjorie's Ghost" is a mordantly humorous tale of a hypocritical abusive husband, and the results of his loud mourning at his wife's death. "The Ghost" is a cute story about a group of college students moving into a new house -- which already has an inhabitant, natch. The other two stories are more substantial -- "For Love of Him" has a young man, after cleaning up a grave site, encountering a mourning woman in an area of very old graves. The resolution was a bit mechanical, but the story was nice enough. Somewhat better is "October Chill," in which a teenaged girl, terminally ill, also encounters a Revolutionary War era ghost while at her volunteer job at an historical site. Slowly she learns the ghost's story, while in some sense falling in love. The ending here is nicely ambiguous, sad without being hopeless. This is probably the collection's high point.

This is a well-done set of YA ghost stories. It doesn't transcend its category, in the way that the best YA fiction does, but it's a very solid exemplar of that category. And certainly it avoids the vulgarity of some popular YA horror fiction -- which may not be a recommendation to all readers, but which pleased this reader.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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