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September 3

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Review: Being Dead by Vivian Vande Velde

by Ann-Katrina

Being Dead Cover

Back Cover of Being Dead

They may be dead, but thee certainly not gone. They dance with the living, sleep under your bed, and follow you home from school.

In this deliciously creepy collection of seven stories, Vivian Vande Velde follows the haunted souls of yesterday beyond the grave into our world–a place they just aren’t ready to leave.

Three Quick Points About Being Dead

  • Point 1: The cover is creepier than the stories. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some level of nerve-altering in at least one of the stories.
  • Point 2: A mixed bag. A few of the stories seem like incomplete thoughts, but the remainders have the power to make one gasp, laugh, or misty-eyed.
  • Point 3: Smooth and fast reads, all. Each story flows from one page to the next making this book an exceptionally fast read.

Full Review of Being Dead

Typically I break my reviews into two parts: synopsis of the entire story and my personal thoughts. Since Being Dead is a short anthology of ghost stories, I decided to offer a brief synopsis followed by commentary for the individual stories. I did my best to avoid major spoilers.

These stories range from mildly creepy to hilarious to poignant, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one which will keep you awake with fright (unless, of course, you allow your imagination full reign of the possibilities).

Drop by Drop, a modern parable, tells the tale of a teenage girl, moving to a rural area with her family, who becomes haunted by a young girl. The build up and tension created in the story is excellent, if not classic and despite anticipating each creepy element, I enjoyed it. However, the climax dropped dead; it was too predictable, but there was a twist (the lesson one should learn).

Dancing With Marjorie’s Ghost is a cautionary tale; woman comes back from grave at the request of her “grieving” husband. Its main tenet is to be careful what you wish for (and watch out for karma). Some aspects of it reminded me of The Monkey’s Paw. Despite its seeming familiarity, it was a simple, quick, and fun read.

Shadow Brother is the story of a family torn apart when the eldest son, Kevin, is drafted for the Vietnam war and dies in battle. Stricken with grief and guilt, his father spirals downhill. Unfortunately, this story fell apart partly because of the characterization—I didn’t believe the relationship between Sarah, Kevin’s younger sister and the story’s narrator, and her cousin Dwight—and because it seemed more like a patchwork quilt than a well-rounded story.

Ghost Story is rather straightforward: Collegians start moving into a haunted house, then quickly move out. That’s the entire story, but it had me chuckling by the end.

For Love of Him had plenty of unrealized potential. It’s about a young man who becomes captivated by the old gravestones of a man and woman who wouldn’t have been much older than him when they died. His obsession takes a near deadly turn, but the intervention of a mysterious (almost) stranger saves him. The atmosphere and backstory had plenty of room for growth, but it was vague in all the wrong places and petered out resulting in a highly predictable ending.

October Chill looks through the eyes of a young girl dying from a brain tumor who meets the ghost of a colonial soldier while working in a recreated colonial village and falls in love. By the end of the story I was wishing it were a full-length novel because I was intrigued by the young man’s story and wanted to see more development between them; it all happened and ended too quickly although the story was certainly enjoyable. More heart-tugging than scary with a bittersweet ending.

Being Dead, the book’s namesake, transpires during the great depression. A sardonic newsboy meets with a good bit of luck moments before his untimely (and surprising) death. Despite being dead, he must find a way to deliver an important message to his mother. The voice and pacing is vastly different from the previous stories. But it was smooth, poignant, and hilarious. The emotions were tangible from anger to frustration and by the end of the story, when the final message is delivered, I was misty-eyed. By far the most balanced and well-written story in the bunch. This story was the book’s saving grace.

Despite not loving every story, Ghost Story, October Chill, and Being Dead certainly made the book a worthwhile read.

Rating: Worth The Price [B-] (?)

(Small note: Had it not been for two of the stories—October Chill and Being Dead—the book would have dropped at least one letter grade.)

Being Dead available from Amazon

Comments on Review: Being Dead by Vivian Vande Velde

  1. # henry wrote on January 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm:

    Drop by Drop, that is the lesson one should learn

  2. # Stories That Keep You Up at Night : SMES exPRESS wrote on October 31, 2010 at 1:13 am:

    [...] events (Her short stories are extremely terrifying. The title of one of her collection, Being Dead, never ceases to send chills down my [...]

  3. # zoya mehdi wrote on September 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm:

    i read your book. from the cover it sent chills down my spine i am 11 years old and it was hilarious at some parts but the story drop by drop was scary and was sad but an awesome story i have a question though are they accually true thank you very much and that was the best scary book i have ever read

  4. # Fai D. Flourite wrote on January 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm:

    I really enjoyed Drop by Drop. I think it was by far the scariest story in this book. I do agree with your comments for the rest of the book except for Shadow Brother. I liked that story and thought it was slightly scary but also not. It wasn’t bad just simple.

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