Ellie leads a typical life for a seventeen-year-old. She goes to class, hangs out with her best friend Kevin, wonders about Mark, her mysterious (and good looking) classmate. She has a black belt in tae kwon do and, after a night of ill-advised drinking with Kevin, she has also volunteered her time to staging fight scenes for a play at the local university. Even if it is being directed by Kevin’s oldest friend Iris who is annoyingly perfect and makes Ellie feel like an ugly, ungainly giant.
After that things start to get less typical.
The news keeps talking about a serial killer. After a literal run-in with Mark Ellie is starting to see things. One of the actresses at the play seems to have an unhealthy interest in Kevin.
The more Ellie learns the more it seems like Mark might be at the center of all of the strange happenings around her and, stranger still, Ellie herself might have a role to play before it’s all over in Guardian of the Dead (2010) by Karen Healey.
Guardian of the Dead was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils. Although it did not win the top spot it holds a special place in my heart as a personal favorite from 2010 and I am very excited I can finally post my review. (It is also set in New Zealand. As such, if you are not familiar with New Zealand school structure the beginning might be confusing, but don’t worry it all resolves itself quickly.)
Without giving too much away, the incorporation of stories and mythology–most notably traditional Maori myths–adds another dimension to the plot here–particularly the notion that stories shape us all. Much like traditional myths nothing is quite as it seems in Guardian of the Dead and, often, nothing works out quite as one would expect it too. Consequently the plot is rich and filled with twists and turns to keep even the most astute readers guessing.
It’s weird to say about a fantasy but Guardian of the Dead is extremely authentic when it comes to the characters and how they interact with each other. All of the characters, even the minor ones and the creepy ones, feel strikingly complex and well-developed in a very natural way. It all seems so real even as all of these improbable things start to happen to Ellie. Healey is really one of those writers that makes her craft seem effortless.
Ellie herself is also a joy. She is proactive and desirable and powerful throughout the story. Tall and ungainly she is athletic but also chubby. None of which is the point of the book or becomes over-emphasized because there is so much more to her. Which is such a realistic and healthy characterization even if it is one that doesn’t always appear in books.
Guardian of the Dead is everything I want to see in a Chick Lit Wednesday book and Ellie is everything I want in a heroine. Filled with mythology, action, wit, and even some romance Guardian of the Dead is a charmer that will leave you thinking even while it leaves you with a smile.
Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Misfit by Jon Skovron, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson
Exclusive Bonus Content: I actually have a funny degree of separation story about Karen Healey. Back before she become a YA author Healey wrote a blog/column called Girls Read Comics . . . And They’re Pissed which is a great resource about feminism and, you guessed it, comics. Anyway, in January 2008 in a post called Farewell to Meat, Healey linked to one of my early Chick Lit Wednesday Reviews for Ella Enchanted. It was one of the first times my blog got a ton of views and it was a big deal for me. In late 2010 when I realized Healey was the genius behind Girls Read Comics it became even more exciting and interesting. So now, having posted about Guardian of the Dead in a Chick Lit Wednesday Review I feel a bit like I’ve come full circle.