There is nothing that excites a reader more than to become so invested in a book that she forgets that she is reading and instead feels as if she is experiencing the journey alongside the characters. JB Coffman’s Dead Club: The Case of the Sad Girl is a perfect example of a book that transcends the passive act of reading by convincing the reader that she has an emotional stake in the outcome.
Coffman is an author who pierces the veil of characters’ secrets by creating a well constructed roadmap of excitement and intrigue while the reader silently rides shotgun witnessing events as they unfold. I find the allure of Coffman’s writing is that she refuses to be limited by a specific genre; thus, her books are relatable to all audiences.
Dead Club offers so many elements: psychological thriller, paranormal, romance, crime drama, mystery, suspense. We see children and adults interact in a way that is not the standard fare of the children serving as “window dressing” to advance the adults’ story. Similarly, the adults in Coffman’s books aren’t the buffoons or tiresome tools that some authors may employ to highlight the children’s extraordinary intelligence or capabilities. Personally, I quickly lose interest in stories that travel this route. Rather, Dead Club lets the children and adults work together to defeat a powerful adversary.
Coffman takes the “I see dead people” line made famous by the Sixth Sense a step further. Dead Club is, in fact, a club in which few people would desire membership. One of the main protagonists, Dr. Danny Callahan (DJ), is a pediatric psychiatrist who forms a special kinship with his young patients who see ghosts. Some of these spirits are relatives; yet, some of the spirits are unfamiliar apparitions connected through a heinous crime. The titular “Sad Girl” is a particular spirit that we meet throughout the book.
What Coffman does with DJ is worth noting. She could have written the character as just the kind hearted, sympathetic doctor who is compassionate towards his young patients’ plight. Yes, DJ exhibits these qualities but the link to the patients is something more. We first meet DJ as a young boy, Danny, who lost his sister Katie in a car accident. We also learn that DJ’s wife Anna died. However, DJ is a part of Dead Club because he can see both Katie and Anna. Another interesting approach to DJ is that Coffman doesn’t make him a saintly character. I think that there are some authors who worry that if they show a significant character flaw (especially for a core character), the reader will find that character unlikable and turn against the character. Fortunately, Coffman takes the gamble for the reader learns that DJ did something very bad in the past. He constantly wrestles over his guilt for his actions. When he meets Emma, a surprising romance brews even as the two help the children conquer a powerful nemesis. Emma is a fun, quirky, speak her mind woman that readers will fine quite refreshing. For DJ, Emma is a polar opposite to his late wife. Yet, Emma is far from perfect.
Dead Club introduces us to a diverse collection of young characters who are DJ’s patients. We have Lily, an Asian girl, who defies the upper crust, old world views of her domineering mother. When we first meet Lily, she is very fragile. Seeing “Sad Girl” and other spirits has Lily questioning her mentality. By the time the book ends, Lily emerges as the true hero in the battle against evil. Lily and DJ were my favorite characters. Some of the other core characters- Jack, Nick, Mason- are thoroughly fleshed out. Further, Coffman’s writing style of allowing chapter titles that focus on each of her characters’ backgrounds and histories is marvelously ingenious. Because Dead Club gives us a plethora of characters, it is wise that Coffman so meticulously established each one.
Against the backdrop of the paranormal plot, Coffman also is unafraid to present characters with different ethnic makeup nor is she afraid to realistically show the pain of racism. There are scenes and dialogue that are uncomfortable, but necessary to portray the ignorance of racism. I applaud Coffman for bravely addressing a subject matter that others may avoid.
Speaking of dialogue: Coffman succeeds on this front. How she manages to navigate through so many characters with distinct voices is quite impressive.
The pacing is wonderfully appropriate. There were no extraneous moments because each scene was an essential building block for the overall foundation of the story.
Mystery and suspense permeate. I’m an advocate of suspense hooks where the protagonist appears to be at the mercy of the antagonist. This is edge-of-your-seat wonderment: Will our protagonist survive? Our hearts race as readers because we also wonder whether WE will survive! This goes back to my initial point of how the reader feels that she is a part of the characters’ journeys because of Coffman’s skilled writing.
Finally, for pop culture aficionados, Coffman doesn’t disappoint. You will find film and television references in Dead Club that provides some levity to the highly intense emotional scenes.
If you enjoy the paranormal, you’ll love Dead Club. If you gravitate towards emotional moments where characters are tortured by their pasts and confront uncertain futures, you’ll love Dead Club. If you champion realistic dialogue, strong characters and engaging plots, you’ll love Dead Club. If you’re riveted by mystery and suspense, you’ll love Dead Club.
Dead Club is a book with universal appeal. It is a book that will delight readers.