Review of Dead Wednesday

Dead Wednesday
by Jerry Spinelli
Middle School    Knopf    240 pp.    g
8/21    978-0-593-30667-3    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-30668-0    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-30669-7    $10.99

“Worm” Tarnauer is the sort of middle-school kid who likes to be invisible, “to be out of sight, underground, watching, listening. A spectator” — until a ghost girl changes all of that. Worm can’t wait for Dead ­Wednesday, when eighth graders are supposed to ­remember ­Pennsylvania teenagers who died from ­preventable accidents, such as wrapping their cars around trees. (“Wrappers,” the kids callously call them.) Their faces are on posters in the school, and eighth graders receive their name cards and wear black shirts. The students become “Deaders,” and teachers act like they don’t see them. But to “freedom-drunk” eighth graders, lack of supervision means raucous behavior, a.k.a. pure bliss. Then the dead girl on Worm’s card — Rebecca Ann Finch, age seventeen — appears and tells him she is there “to fix him,” to show him the life he is missing by being a worm, a ­middle-school fun junkie, more interested in video games than the real life all around him. Spinelli makes the relationship between a boy and a ghost heartwarming; the life lessons of a dead girl profound; and social commentary astute but not didactic. Dialogue is snappy, and every scene is tight and memorable. Susan Caraway from Spinelli’s Stargirl (2000) might see in Becca Finch a kindred spirit.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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