Schrefer, Eliot (2010). The Deadly Sister. NY: Scholastic. 310 pages.
Schrefer’s novel begins with a bang when its eighteen-year-old narrator, Abby, discovers the body of Jefferson, one of her high school’s most popular and most hated boys, in the woods. As she tentatively examines the crime scene, Abby discovers evidence that her younger sister, a wild child, druggie, and sometimes runaway named Maya, was at the scene. Abby slips into the familiar role of sister-protector and begins the simultaneous cover-up and detection process that occupies her throughout the novel, as she tries to determine if Maya did, indeed, kill Jefferson.
Told from the first person perspective of Abby, the novel covers a realistically long period of time from the discovery of Jefferson’s body to Maya’s eventual trial. The narrative provides us with the relevant details of Abby’s detection process, which involves a lot of driving around, borrowing cars, and visiting sketchy parts of town. Practically each chapter includes a new tidbit of information or clue to the greater story of Jefferson’s relationship with both Maya and Abby. Although Abby’s choices do not always seem rational, she assures us (the reader) that any truth-twisting is in the service of her sister’s defense, even when it would seem in opposition to it.
If you’ve ever read Nancy Werlin’s The Killer’s Cousin, you probably know where this is going. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading that novel, you may have noted that discussions of Schrefer’s second novel (The School for Dangerous Girls was his first for young adults) often mention the “twist” at the book’s end. I won’t give it away, except to say that I found it a little over-explained and distinctly un-subtle. Because I had heard about The Twist prior to reading the novel, I think that my initial reading of the book was colored by my attempts to read between the lines, and this might be a primary contributor to my interpretation above. That said, while I enjoy a good mystery explication (a la the last fifteen minutes of an episode of Murder, She Wrote), this one ended with something of a confession rather than an unmasking, which is always my preferred conclusion.
I have to say, I did enjoy the book and will probably make it a point to seek out Schrefer’s first YA novel, the aforementioned The School for Dangerous Girls. I think that when I initially encountered The School . . . I was struck by the stereotypical cover image and associated its likely content with books like Ally Carter’s “Gallagher Girls” series; a peek online at the book’s summary suggests I was wrong, which means it’s time for me to reconsider the book I judged by its cover.