Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Published by Running Press Kids on May 28 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Frenchie Garcia can’t come to grips with the death of Andy Cooper. Her friends didn’t know she had a crush him. And they don’t know she was the last person with him before he committed suicide. But Frenchie’s biggest concern is how she blindly helped him die that night.
Frenchie’s already insane obsession with death and Emily Dickinson won’t help her understand the role she played during Andy’s “one night of adventure.” But when she meets Colin, she may have found the perfect opportunity to recreate that night. While exploring the emotional depth of loss and transition to adulthood, Sanchez’s sharp humor and clever observations bring forth a richly developed voice.
My decision to read this book was pretty shallow, I’ll admit: I was drawn to the simple, gorgeous cover and couldn’t look away. It was just SO BEAUTIFUL. It totally captivated me.
The thing about books with lovely covers is that sometimes the inside of the book is so very disappointing. DEATH, DICKINSON, AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA was anything but disappointing. It was exactly what I needed when I needed it, and I am so happy to have read this book.
I actually read the book aloud for the first four chapters (it helps when I’m having trouble concentrating, okay) and couldn’t stop. I think I read the first five or six chapters late into the night, and then proceeded to finish the rest of the book promptly the next morning. It’s not a particularly long book, at just under 300 pages, and it flies by. I almost wanted it to be longer, just so that I could spend more time in Frenchie’s head.
On that note, can we just talk about Frenchie Garcia for a second? What a protagonist. She’s a truly complicated girl, and I was along for the ride from page one. She’s unlike any other protagonist I’ve encountered in my broad literary past. Frenchie shows signs of depression – pushing her friends away, lack of interest in any of her favourite hobbies or pastimes, the desire to spend all day in bed – but she is so much more than that. As her “unofficial third best friend” Robyn says, Frenchie can be a bit harsh. A bit “cold … prudish … uninviting … bitchy … snarky … evil ….” She doesn’t have many friends because, as Robyn attests, people are scared of her. And that doesn’t really bother Frenchie. She knows how people see her, and she’s okay with it for the most part. Frenchie is harbouring a secret that is eating away at her life: she was the last person to spend time with Andy Cooper before he committed suicide four months ago. But the most important thing about Frenchie is that she is so dynamic. She is moody and snarky and independent, but she is also needy and sad and so freaking lonely that it hurts even to think about. I get Frankie.
As Frenchie attempts to relive that fateful night with Andy (alongside new friend Colin), she learns a lot about both Andy and herself. It’s Frenchie’s self-discovery that really makes this book. It’s executed to perfection and I really felt for Frenchie every step of the way. She was a real person, which is pretty much the highest praise I can give a character. Another thing I really loved was her relationship with her best friend, Joel. Frenchie spends the book angry with Joel for his tendency to abandon her for whomever he happens to be dating at any given time. What I love about this is that Frenchie isn’t jealous because she has a thing for Joel – she’s jealous because he’s her best friend and he isn’t there for her when she needs him. She feels like his girlfriend is threatening their friendship. No one in this book is completely in the wrong, and Frenchie isn’t such a martyr herself. These are selfish teenagers who get so wrapped up in their personal dramas that they forget to check in on each other and make sure everyone else is doing okay. It sucks, but it’s normal. It’s natural for Joel to want to be happy with Lily, for his plans to change. It’s natural for Frenchie to long for stability in the upheaval she is experiencing. Everything makes total sense.
Another fabulous thing about DEATH, DICKINSON… is that there is minimal romance. I know what you’re thinking – almost all of the YA bloggers I know love themselves some romance. I’m not one of those people. I find it can be too contrived, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem necessary or important compared to everything else going on in the characters’ lives. In this case, there is a budding flirtation between Frenchie and Colin, but it really isn’t a priority. When Colin holds Frenchie’s hand it could be taken as romantic, but it could also be that he’s trying to show her that he’s there for her; he has her back. He respects that she may not be ready for or even thinking about getting into a relationship. She has bigger things going on in her life. Honestly, I didn’t really like Colin when he was first introduced, but goddamn did he grow on me. If I were to have a book crush, it would probably be on Colin. Just sayin’.
Last point: Diversity! Frenchie is (assumedly) Latina, though the only description I recall of her is that she has long black hair, and best friend Joel is described as half-black (and he has dreads! Swoon!). I loved that these characters were non-white, but that they were neither stereotypical nor was their existence wrapped up in their race or ethnicity. They were just people who happened not to be Caucasian. Yay!