Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price is a young adult mystery novel (available October 30, 2012).
As their hardscrabble lives intertwine in a small, corrupt Montana town, Grace, a scheming runaway; JJ, her spacey foster sister; and Mick, the hapless son of a petty thief, discover the body of a dead teenage prostitute. Afraid to come forward, the teens try to hide their knowledge of the crime, because they believe the murderer is one of the corrupt officials and businessmen who rule their town. But after a series of false moves and dumb mistakes, the teens are soon suspects themselves in a murder investigation that threatens their freedom—and maybe their lives.
This is one of the most disturbing stories I’ve read lately, mainly because of its subject matter. I think the synopsis above gives you a good idea of what it is all about, but that is not enough to convey to you the heartaches and pains its heroes go through.
It all begins when Grace runs away from home and her unloving family. Grace is someone who suffered a lot in life, from a very young age. Now that she’s sixteen, she’s decided that enough is enough and she goes away.
Grace loved a song called Dreamtrails by Dirty Mittens. The melody haunted, the lyrics told her story. Walking a highway of dreams, every guy, every girl with her own, as fragile as powerful, as powerful as hate.
Grace wanted to be untouchable, independent, in charge of her own life.
Her journey will take her all the way from California to the small town of Portage, Montana, where she goes to find shelter in the house of Gary Stovall. So, all of a sudden, and by a turn of luck (if one could call it so), she’ll become a foster child—no questions asked.
Gary lives with his alcoholic wife Tina, their troubled ten-year-old son Jon and yet another foster child, fourteen-year-old JJ (Janis Joplin). Grace can’t really say that she hit the jackpot, but what she now has is much better than what she had back home. So, she slowly begins to adapt to her new life, gets a job as a waitress and starts saving money since she knows that sooner or later she’ll have to move on.
Before too long there are a couple of new arrivals in town: Mick and his father Fitz, who’s a thief. Mick has spent way too much time traveling from one place to the next—he’s been to three different schools in twelve months—and now he’s determined to stay in Portage and start life anew whether his dad likes it or not. Mick’s feelings for his father are conflicted. His father’s profession drove Mick’s mother away, but at least he didn’t abandon Mick, like so many other fathers might have done.
…He was grateful that his father kept him, raised him, such as it was. His dad didn’t have to, but he did the duty. Been easier to put Mick in foster care. More and more though, his father was blaming Mick for his own problems. Whenever his dad got in a jam, Mick was a handy goat. Mick knew that he’d miss him sometimes, but when he thought of working, going to school, taking care of himself without having to keep covering things up? Mick would be a million pounds lighter.
JJ falls in love with Mick from the very first moment that she lays eyes on him, but she knows that he’ll fall for Grace, even if the latter doesn’t try to attract his attention.
At the beginning we think of JJ as a dream child, someone lost in a world of her own. She’s in love with the moon, she’s lonesome, she craves something different, but at the same time she’s much wiser than her age, and a realist. She may be a dreamer, but she seems to know more of the world than her elders do. Mick’s arrival is a blessing and a curse at the same time for her. She likes him, because he’s nice enough and caring, and he keeps her company, but she’s certain that for him she’s just a kid, and a connection to Grace.
It will take a crime to bring the three closer together: the murder of a girl, whose body they’ll find in the river. That fact will blow their somewhat convenient lives apart, and it will bring to light their inner selves, which will more often than not surprise the reader, as they will show that sometimes the weak are the strong and the strong are the clueless when it comes to everyday life.
At one point Mick thinks that maybe he should “ask JJ to teach him some brain-fu.” And in the end it all comes to that: it is JJ’s wit that saves the day.
This is a great novel with a very difficult subject matter. It talks about corruption, families without a future, children poor in hope and in means to achieve their goals or even to dream about them. The author doesn’t try to polish a reality that’s bleak as hell. Instead, he showcases this reality as it is and points out that, perhaps, there’s a way out for the people who are trapped in it. All it takes is some bravery and a lot of brain-fu.
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Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.