The students in Dead Rules, Randy Russell’s killer YA debut, can relate. Their lives interrupted by sudden death, these teens find themselves at a ghostly school wearing the clothes and wounds of their passing. Poor Jana Webster. She has on bowling shoes! For an aspiring actress bent on a Broadway career with boyfriend Michael Hayes, this is totally humilating. Sure it could be worse — she could have arrived with a lawn dart sticking out of her head, or missing a major limb. Jana’s pretty lucky with just a bloody bump on the back of her skull and a tube of lip gloss in her pocket.
But Jana doesn’t feel lucky. Michael isn’t with her. How can she go on without the love of her life? Webster and Hayes for all eternity! Michael must die, even if she has to kill him herself.
She can’t do it alone though. Dead School, like other high schools, has classes and cliques and rules. As a Riser almost assured of salvation, Jana has lost connection with the “Planet.” Only with the help of a more warm-blooded Slider, a student who retains an earthly connection because of past misdeeds, can she hope to communicate with Michael. Mars Dreamcote, for instance, is a Slider who frequently risks expulsion by going off campus as a ghost of his former self and already has broken the rules by explaining some of them to Jana. That he also knows more about Jana’s life and death than she realizes still awaits her discovery. First, though, they need to attend Jana’s funeral.
Wickedly clever. Or cleverly wicked. Either way, Russell’s tale is also funny, thoughtful and poignant, with a fully realized world of quirky, recognizable teens. I’m totally crushing on Mars, the blue-eyed “bad boy” secretly seeking redemption. Expertly plotted, the story builds to a final, brilliant sentence. But don’t skip ahead or you might miss the impact. This once you’ll want to follow the rules start to finish.
Open Book: I bought the e-book version of Dead Rules (HarperTeen), and my longtime friend Randy Russell has not bribed me to say nice things. I’m just sorry I haven’t gotten around to saying them sooner.