DiscoverYoung Adult

How To Experience Death For Beginners

By Jessica Branton

Not for me 😔

Cool premise, but loses a sense of urgency when we go off track to deal with PSA situations instead of delving into the character's gift.

Synopsis

Casey Darling can enter the minds of people when they die. After receiving romantic advances from the enigmatic new guy at school, a serial killer invades her small town. Local police grow suspicious as she appears at crime scenes, but an FBI agent believes in her psychic powers. Will Casey fall in love or help take down a psychopath? Maybe both.

I was greatly disappointed with certain aspects of How To Experience Death For Beginners of its cool premise. The title is more tongue-in-cheek and it would serve the book well if some of the cheekiness made its way into the narration. This is not to say that the narrator wasn't interesting, but a title like that puts a lot of pressure on the story itself. The title had also led me to expect that there would be more explanation or even exploration as to how the main character developed this skill. What I found was that the story's focus wasn't so much on the mystery, but on the "b-roll" storyline which didn't intersect or intertwine with the main storyline. Casey has a "gift" and a chance to stop a serial killer but seems to stray away from this task even after it hits close to home. Instead, everyone sort of ignores it and moves on a little too quickly after such a tragedy.


The main issue I have is with the characters: Casey's twin sister is selectively mute but she seems to speak when spoken to or of her own will whenever it serves the plot. She is treated like a frail creature (at one point, the main character kisses her on the cheek. Unless they are super close or in their forties, teenage sisters don't typically do that to each other). The enigmatic newcomer plays the "I want to be friends with you, just friends" card way too much. He can also become charming and appear downtrodden and then angry within a single scene, sometimes within two lines of dialogue. This type of behavior is manipulative in and of itself and is not a healthy character for Casey to surround herself with, let alone fall for. The PSA in the book was apparent as well, making what could have been good characters into beacons for PSA messages. In all, I felt that most characters were drawn as caricatures instead of in 3D.


I appreciated the pacing until we met the detectives and then ignored the serial killer plot, which fell away to deal with the enigmatic newcomer. (Which removed the urgency of finding the serial killer and in no way helped the plot later.)


I suggest that the author consider taking each of the character's introductory paragraphs and working the description into the scene. Providing a "she does this weird thing but is a great person" for each person breaks the show-don't-tell rule and loses the interest of the reader. Show don’t tell also allows for the character to breathe on the page instead of prescribing them with a laundry list of character traits.


I do have to commend the author for writing a book that did not include crass language. The good news is that these are rookie mistakes and can be amended.

Reviewed by

In 2013, I started Sage Thoughts and in 2015, I joined NetGalley and review books for their site. I enjoy reading ebooks and paper books as well as audiobooks (especially with a multicast production).
In addition, I'm a freelance copyeditor, which I was not professionally trained to do, but am able to do due to my years of writing, reading, and teaching myself the rules of grammar.

What makes me unique as a reader/blogger is that my goal is to find clean stories that are actually good - have interesting plots, character growth, and smart writing. I would love to help promote books that make this cut.

Synopsis

Casey Darling can enter the minds of people when they die. After receiving romantic advances from the enigmatic new guy at school, a serial killer invades her small town. Local police grow suspicious as she appears at crime scenes, but an FBI agent believes in her psychic powers. Will Casey fall in love or help take down a psychopath? Maybe both.

Prologue

Some people say that your life flashes before your eyes when you die. What really happens is that you see all of the things you didn’t do in your life. All of the words unspoken, the actions not taken, and finally the biggest and darkest regrets flash like lightning. How do I know this? Because when I was seven years old I saw my dad die, and I died with him.

I had been playing dolls in our bedroom with my twin sister, Christina, when suddenly I was hit with a fear so strong and terrible that I ripped off Barbie’s head. A voice whispered, “Casey?” as I blacked out.

My mind was flung into the passenger’s seat of my father’s car. “Daddy?” I gasped, but he didn’t hear me. I wondered where my body had gone and where Christina was. I watched my father’s hands tighten on the steering wheel as the car slammed through the metal railing and into the river. Stop! I screamed in my head. He didn’t die on impact.

No, he continued to sit at the bottom of the river while watching death approach, and he was unable to do anything to stop it. Desperately, he flung himself against the windows of the car. The jammed door mocked him as he struggled. When the car hit the bottom of the river and filled up with water, that’s when the memories came.

My father faded away and in his wake, I experienced his first kiss. I watched as he met my mom for the first time. She was so pretty as she smiled at him and shook his hand. He seemed so happy from merely meeting her. The rest of his happy memories flooded me: marriage, Christina and I being born, the last birthday we made our own cards for him.

Then other memories surfaced. A girl’s tears rolled off her cheeks as I watched my father kiss another girl in front of her. His regret at not telling another girl he loved her flashed before me, and then a boy, his best friend, was being beaten up by a couple of bullies, but he didn’t help. Finally, the biggest regret surfaced. Resentment filled me in horror as I watched him leave some woman’s house before driving home to us. That was when the light left his eyes and he died.

When I finally came to, my mom was shaking me, and Christina peeked from behind her looking terrified. I burst into hysterical tears. “It’s okay, baby. I’m here for you,” my mom whispered in my hair, holding me close. But I knew it wasn’t okay. What I had just seen was so real, like I was actually there.

I screamed repeatedly, “Daddy’s dead!” Momma shushed me and laid me down to sleep. Christina looked at me, but remained silent. She crawled into the bed and wrapped her arms around me. Momma tucked us in and left. I whispered all the things I saw to her and I felt her arms stiffen. She placed her head against my hair until silent tears put me to sleep and Christina’s soft snoring faded from my ears. Later, Mom came back in. I can still hear my mother whispering through tears, “How did you know?” I didn’t know what to tell her.

I experienced death when I was seven years old. Ten years later, I found myself wondering if I would ever stop. 

About the author

Jessica Branton wrote How To Experience Death For Beginners when she was fourteen. She is a member of SCBWI, a graduate assistant at Georgia Southern, and obtained her bachelor's from the University of Georgia. Her plays have been commissioned and produced by several theatre companies in Georgia. view profile

Published on February 14, 2019

Published by Charlie's Port - FRINGE

90000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Young Adult

Reviewed by

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