DEAD WEDNESDAY by Jerry Spinelli
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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.
Worm murmurs it on the bus–not loudly; he’s shy, after all–but soon it’s picked up by the rest of the eighth graders as their mantra and their cheer. It’s the second Wednesday in June, “Dead Wed” in Worm’s small Pennsylvania town, a day that school administrators designed to scare the eighth graders out of future reckless behavior but that every eighth grader knows as the day they can get away with anything. In homeroom, they will each receive a black shirt and a card with the name and picture of a teenager who died in PA last year as a result of preventable car accidents or dangerous stunts–and from that moment, every eighth grader will be “dead.” No teacher can acknowledge their presence, not even to stop them from walking out of school if they feel like it. Perfect Day.
But Worm’s perfect day veers off course almost immediately when the dead girl from his card, Rebecca Finch, starts showing up in real life. He’s the only one who seems to be able to see her or speak to her, although she’s 100% real and tangible. Becca doesn’t know how she ended up back on Earth, but she’s positive it has something to do with Worm. She’s here to save him–because let’s face it, Worm hasn’t really been living. As Mean Monica once announced, he needs to get a life. As Becca drags Worm on an impulsive jaunt around his hometown, Worm starts to realize that there is more than one way to “be bold” and that maybe Becca needs some saving of her own.
This novel is exquisite. It exists somewhere between middle grade and YA, between fantasy and realistic fiction, but the book is full of betweens. Becca is caught between life and death, Worm between middle school and high school, childhood and adulthood, responsibility to his parents and individuality, a desire to be noticed and a desire to fade into the background. The narrative is masterfully woven, sending readers on an undulating emotional journey that builds to its climax so subtly that it is both unexpected and grounded. There is humor, realistically cringe-worthy teen interactions, and true heartache (warning to parents: this may upset you more than it will your kids), and Worm’s personal journey is authentic and meaningful. This book is a must-read for middle schoolers and an excellent pick for M.S. book clubs.