Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review of Picture the Dead and Giveaway

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown 
Pages: 224
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pub. Date: May 1, 2010
My Rating:

Goodreads says, "Jennie’s connection with her twin brother, Toby, grew stronger after he died in 1864. Now Jennie must rely on her ability to communicate with the dead to find out what has happened to her beloved fiance, Will, while he was off at war. The army says he died honorably in battle. His brother confides that he became a violent criminal and died in a prison camp. Jennie begins to doubt that anyone is telling her the truth. This intriguing combination of historical romance, paranormal thriller, and clever mystery is illustrated by bestselling artist Lisa Brown. The unique visuals originated from real Civil War daguerreotypes that were transformed into eerie mementos for Jennie’s scrapbook.  With the help of a spiritualist photographer, the spirit of her dead fiance, and the clues she discovers and keeps in her scrapbook, Jennie must put together the pieces of this mystery before she loses her home, her fortune, and possibly her life.

For me, there is nothing better than a ghost story with some historical romance, some mystery, and some paranormal mixed in.  It's pretty much the recipe to some of my favorite books and when I came across this book, I knew it would be something that I enjoyed, because it possesses all of those characteristics.  Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown's novel, Picture the Dead,  is a haunting ghost story that I couldn't get enough of.

The main character, Jennie, is in a tough place when we first meet her.  Not only is she an orphan, but she was also sent to live with her aunt and uncle, who I found to be extremely disagreeable, along with her twin brother, Toby.  Like I sad, her aunt and uncle aren't the warmest people; however, that can be overlooked since her cousins Will and Quinn live there as well.  As time goes by, Jennie falls in love with her cousin, Will, and becomes engaged to him.  (Yes, marrying your cousin wasn't unusual during that time period....think Ashley and Melanie from Gone with the Wind.)  Everything seems to be looking up until Jennie's world is shattered, along with many others during that time period.  The Civil War is upon them and Will, Toby and Quinn enlist.  Unfortunately, Quinn is the only one that comes back alive and Jennie is faced with the fact that she not only lost her brother, but her fiance as well.   Jennie wants to know exactly what happened to Will and of course, seeks out Quinn for information.  Shockingly, Quinn reports that Will didn't die honorably in battle as was originally told to her, instead he went crazy and became violent at one of the horrid prison camps.  With this new information, Jennie is heartbroken, but something doesn't seem right.  She pieces together this mystery by meeting with a spiritualist photographer, which was all the rage back then.  She also gathers clues in her scrapbook, which is expertly illustrated by Lisa Brown.   Jennie doesn't know what to believe, but the answer was right in front of her all along.

One of the things that I enjoyed about this book is the scrapbook portion before each chapter.  I loved the detail and the mystery that surrounded it.  I would examine it looking for clues and read the letters to piece together the Will's death which seems shrouded in mystery. It was as if I was following Jennie's every move and was experiencing it right alongside of her.  The illustrations also included an eerie wallpaper-ish page separating each chapter, which was a nice touch.  Plus, check out the cover! It's so ghostly; I'm reminded of Disney's Haunted Mansion ride, which, by the way,  I love!

I am a fan of historical fiction, so immediately I was engrossed.  I love the Civil War time period and I felt Jennie really captured what some women had to endure during this unfortunate time in our history.  During this time period, spiritualism and medium photographers were a hit and learning more about that was also intriguing.  The book also highlights the horrors of prison camps like Andersonville.  When I cover a few examples of Civil War literature with my 8th graders, most of them aren't aware of the horrible conditions at the prison camps. I liked how this book touches on important aspects of history, while still captivating the readers with some sprinkles of mystery, romance, and the paranormal.  I found Griffin's combination of all this to be the perfect formula, if you will, and I'm sure my students would agree, too. 

Jennie is a character that I found myself rooting for immediately.  She is the underdog and she isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes in.  At the same time, you could also feel the pain she was dealing with adjusting to the loss of her twin and her fiance.  The character of Quinn is extremely mysterious and I was very surprised by him. He is definitely complex and there is more to him than meets the eye. Additionally, Jennie's aunt is an insufferable character and I felt strong animosity towards her, which is only a testament to Griffin's superb writing.

Adele Griffin is a local author; she grew up in Wayne, PA, which is not far from where I grew up. (WOOT!)  I love supporting local authors and I was so glad that I got to meet her, as well as Lisa Brown, at a recent book signing. I plan on reading more of Griffin's novels this summer.  And I can't say enough about Lisa Brown's illustrations.  They are fantastic and really add to the novel.  I must say I was hesitant to read this book at first, because I am not usually a fan of illustrations in young adult literature; however, Brown truly added to the book's meaning and brought the mystery to life.  I am now a fan and I hope that they will collaborate together in the future.  In sum, Picture the Dead is the perfect book to curl up with on a hot summer night, but don't blame me if you spend most of your time looking over your shoulder for an unexpected ghostly visitor.

*Does this book sound like something you'd enjoy? Enter my contest for a signed copy!


  1. Okay, so I just wrote on your previous post that I wasn't sure if I'd get around to reading this book, but now I just might. I have such a major soft spot for illustrated novels and I love that you can look for clues to the mystery in the pictures! How cool is that! Now I really want to know what happened to Will!

  2. Thanks for introducing me to this book. I added it to my wish list.

  3. Kris- You crack me up! :) I think you will definitely like it!

    Medeia- No problem! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. The scrapbook parts of this book sound fascinating. I am really into unusual format books at the moment. I don't know why...

    I'm not so keen on the ghost idea though. I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to ghostly things. They freak me out.

    Great review!


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