Perez, Marlene. Dead Is the New Black. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2008. ISBN 978-9910260193 208 pp. $
Vampires & werewolves are all the rage (blame Stephanie Meyers), and this supernatural tale about a slightly odd town named Nightshade stands out as lightweight treatment of things that go bump in the night. Daisy, whose talents include gymnastics and cooking, stands out for being normal in family of psychics whose powers include clairvoyance, and telekinesis. When young women in town begin passing out from some kind of odd attack that results in sapped energy and fits of a kind, Daisy makes it her mission to get to the bottom of the mystery, alongside hunky Ryan, football star and son of local chief of police. Romance blossoms (a bit predictably) but the rest of the story is unique, and fun, and has some seriously campy goth elements, like a trend of towing mini coffins along as an accessory in lieu of a purse.
Strong female characters abound, from Daisy’s hardworking rock of mom, to the school’s nurse, Nurse Philips. In between making a mean tiramisu, solving the mystery and getting the guy, Daisy also transitions from ordinary girl to cheerleader, as the squad lacks some key players, uncovers a secret society, and makes nice with a former antagonist. Banter between the three Giordano sisters is witty and by turns warm and teasing (and utterly believable).
Perez’s meal descriptions are mouthwatering, and it’s a treat to read about a teen girl who enjoys food and doesn’t stress too much over body image. The ending is a little over the top with all loose ends neatly tied up and then some, but this is a fine start to what appears to be on it’s way to a regular mystery series.