The Dead Girls Detective Agency by Suzy Cox
25th Sep 2013
Reviewing reads for teenagers is a bit of a minefield. Things that they find meaningful – quoting song lyrics, brands, sloppy kissing – rarely overlap with adult interests. Moreover, teenagers are an easy market: struggling in their identities, they’ll probably lap up any books presented as the Next Big Thing. Still, that’s no excuse for YA writers to be lax about their craft.
Suzy Cox, in her first book The Dead Girls Detective Agency, thinks otherwise. The basic idea of the story is cashing in on the popularity of the supernatural, but had the potential to be subversive. Instead it’s a clothes horse, draped with lazy cultural namedrops and the most basic of teenage obsessions.
The entire portrayal is unfair on all parties: the girls are petty, the boy has a really short attention span and one girlfriend is completely replaceable with the next.Central character Charlotte dies in a subway station and is sent to the limbo of Hotel Atessa. Most people, upon finding out they are dead and in the company of dead people, would probably panic extensively about never speaking to their family again. Then they might try and make fellow dead friends, because the afterlife is quite long indeed. Not so with Charlotte.
She briefly mentions her “poor parents,” then moves straight on to pondering whether death means she’s broken up with her boyfriend, David. Someone forgot to tell her it’s not that kind of YA book.
Yep, this is a character who can’t go from being alive to dead without pining for her boyfriend. Standards continue to lower when she derides Nancy, the first girl who’s nice to her. Nancy’s only trying to show you the ropes, Charlotte. No need to call her a nerd.
Things go from bad to worse when it turns out you have to stay in the clothes you die in. Poor Charlotte is stuck in her (ew, gross) school uniform. One of her new ‘friends’ reels off the labels and seasons of her own clothing: it’s just one huge advert for a fashion house.
Because the literary world obviously needs more rich white teenagers, Cox has her group of cardboard characters drop in on poor David’s house. Understandably the grieving boy’s bedroom is a mess. One of the dead girls (half-heartedly written as a fashion-conscious bitch, because teenage girls apparently only come in two types) immediately looks around and states, “They need to fire their maid.”
And then there’s another kick in the teeth. Charlotte, who is dead, decides that she is angry because David is – gasp! – seeking comfort from that bitchy girl from school. The entire portrayal is unfair on all parties: the girls are petty, the boy has a really short attention span and one girlfriend is completely replaceable with the next.
Giving up at this point would be tempting, but soldiering on means you get to witness another hot boy (this one’s dead and aloof, which is a cool new character type never seen before). Oh, and Charlotte is trying to find out who killed her. Hint: it involves being killed over a boy.
Cox is deputy editor for Cosmopolitan, which explains everything about this problematic effort. All a girl needs is a hot guy and nice clothes and she can totally cope with being dead, right?