by Natasha Deen
Great Plains Teen Fiction
Guardian is buried in death, haunted by ghosts and plagued by bullies, youthful and not. But Natasha Deen guards against wallowing her readers in the sobriety of these elements and instead pens an intricate plot that lacks any predictability, even that which we expect with death.
Seventeen-year-old Maggie Johnson lives with her father, the local undertaker, in Dead Falls, and she sees dead people. Actually she sees those confused dead who need her help to let go of life. Her dad knows about her "gift" and her best friend Nell knows about Maggie's "woo-woo" feelings, but the teen has enough strife with bully Serge Popov that she's definitely not going to let this little secret out. Unfortunately, when a creepy radio poltergeist sends Maggie to a deserted old mill to find Serge's murdered body, she can't help but become involved, especially when she finds his ghost inexplicably tied to her,
"...the one person he hated most in the world, and it struck me as funny. Hilarious. Karma was a bitch, but she has a dark sense of humour and I was laughing at the punchline." (pg. 51)
But, it's not until Maggie visits Serge's girlfriend, Amber, and learns the girl is thrilled with Serge's death, and that his parents, the Reverend and Mrs. Popov, plan to have his body cremated without a service, as though he'd never existed, that Maggie actually reveals to Serge that she can see and hear him. Though relieved that he still has a voice with someone, even Deadhead as he calls her, Serge needs to know what happened if he is ever to move to the next world, wherever that may be.
Luckily Dead Falls is a small enough community that Maggie's innocent (?) sleuthing generally looks like nosiness and gossip. She learns much through her friends including her crush Craig MacGregor, the captain of the water polo team on which Serge played, as well as from her father's love interest, the sheriff Nancy Machio. But it's Serge's reactions and commentary with her visits to those who knew him best (like Amber, his parents, etc.) that elicit the most revealing of secrets, some which Serge is not ready to have exposed. And I did mention the threatening poltergeist that continues to send creepy messages to Maggie, right?
"Help Serge or be killed by the poltergeist. Help Serge and possibly be killed by his psychotic father. What a set of options." (pg. 196)Guardian is at its heart a murder mystery, albeit a paranormal one, and a superb one at that. But it defines itself with its characters whose thoughts and actions are unpredictable, as are most of ours, and with their development as they learn new things about themselves and others. Even for Serge, a truly nasty bully, there is hope. And Natasha Deen's writing is a blend of smart dialogue and brisk action that effortlessly takes the reader looking for the "who" who did it. She has a real knack for creating the right atmosphere for friendly discussions and creepy scenarios, as well as thoughtful moments and teen angst. And Natasha Deen has a wit that seems to infuse her words (or rather those of her characters) taking the edge off frightening elements. Everything is believable (even the poltergeist and Serge).
I don't know what Natasha Deen has in store for Maggie after Guardian but there is a perfect set up here for a sequel, not to complete the story but to examine how Maggie's psychic nature and her relationship with Craig both develop, and I look forward to reading about both.
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Consider watching the book trailer for Guardian that Natasha Deen posted in August (I've included it here) and taking a look at her website www.natashadeen.com for more about the author and her writing.