Review: Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey

5 out of 5!

Guardian of the Dead cover
Deposited at boarding school while her parents travel the world, 17-year-old Ellie is grumpy and lonely, but safe. But then New Zealand is rocked by a series of murders in which the victims’ eyes are taken, and the trail is leading closer to Ellie’s school. Her crush, Mark, starts acting strangely and she knows she knows why, but can’t remember. Her only friend, Kevin, falls for a mysterious red-haired woman with an intolerance for the smell of cooked food. And a crazy man grabs her in town and shouts that she needs to protect herself.

I don’t want to say more, because I don’t want to deprive you of the process of figuring out what’s going on as Ellie does. But trust me, it all fits together. And it’s fantastic! I hope it’s not giving too much away to say that it reminds me of a less ponderous, modern New Zealand, YA Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell — a beautiful, eerie fantasy world creeping out from behind a solidly built real world.

I’m trying a new thing. I love giving booktalks (“pitches” encouraging people to read a book), so why not give some on the internets? I’ll embed my videos here, but you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel, MsParenthetical. (My colleagues and I also recorded a bunch of booktalks for our students last year, which you can see on our library YouTube channel.)

Also reviewed by: Pink Me, Book Smugglers (which discusses many of the issues I wanted to get into further but didn’t due to a) spoilers and b) time), and Ripley Patton (more spoilers, more issues).

MINOR SPOILERS, re: magic & fat acceptance


It’s probably not a shocker that Ellie turns out to have powers. One of my favorite things about this book is that she hasn’t a clue how to use them. Other magic-users who’ve had more experience tell her she’s useless, which in most books would be the point where she “somehow knows what to do” and proves them all wrong. Not Ellie — her magic is, realistically, pretty useless for most of the book. But she isn’t a useless person, and that is an important distinction.

Ellie describes herself disparagingly as “fat” and “large” repeatedly over the course of the book. She compares herself unfavorably to skinny Iris, and imagines how everyone else who looks at the two of them is appalled at her relative hugeness. (We never get any external confirmation of her size.)

But: the “beautiful” man she’s crushing on falls for her, as she is. She never loses weight. In fact, near the end, there’s a “trapped in a metaphor” moment in which she is squeezing through an ever-narrowing tunnel, cursing her size… and then realizes, “I’m not too big! This is too small!” and smashes herself a bigger space. I cheered. (She does not then shout triumphantly, “You have no power over me… power over me… power over me,” even though I wanted her to.)

My friend Rebecca Rabinowitz pointed me to an essay about this issue in the book at The Rotund, and Karen Healey’s response on her blog.

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3 Responses to Review: Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey

  1. Pingback: Review: The Shattering, Karen Healey (Sept. 2011)

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