Author: Evan Munday. Release date: 2011. Publisher: ECW Press. ISBN: 9781550229710.
Personal thoughts: I have to admit that when I first started reading this novel I had trouble getting used to Evan Munday’s writing style. Not many authors joke quite as much as he does in telling the story, so it was somewhat new territory for me. Once I became more accustomed to it, however, I ended up really enjoying this book! Munday’s pop-culture references were spot on for me, making me laugh at the nostalgic feelings they conjured up. That being said, I do think that this aspect of the novel will be lost on many readers since I am considerably older than the tween audience the story targets. The other side of the coin, however, is that readers might be sparked with an interest in learning more about what they’ve read, making The Dead Kid Detective Agency valuable in motivating tweens to research history and pop-culture. I also thought the "who-dun-it" mystery was very well-done, and I’m looking forward to uncovering the truth about the dead kids in the upcoming novels. I would highly recommend this title to tween readers who want something with a bit of edge and lot of laughs.
Plot summary: After her father gets a new job teaching high school biology, thirteen-year-old October Schwartz is forced to move to the small Canadian town of Sticksville to a house situated right next to a graveyard. A fan of horror novels and black eyeliner, October is actually kind of excited about the cemetery, but is not so thrilled to be starting at Sticksville Central High School. Having skipped a grade, she is a full year younger than the rest of the ninth grade class, and, to make matters worse, she will be facing the daily battle of running into her dad at school. Things at Sticksville Central are not as bad as October was expecting, however. She quickly makes friends with fellow outcasts Yumi and Stacey (a boy with an unfortunate girl’s name), and, at Yumi’s request, joins the curling team that is coached by Mr. O’Shea, her kind French teacher who is genuinely interested in October’s aspirations to be a horror novelist. October’s almost normal life takes an abrupt detour, however, when Mr. O’Shea is killed in a mysterious accident in the school’s auto-shop. Saddened by his death and the memories it brings back of her own mother’s disappearance when she was three, October is grieving one night in the cemetery when she suddenly encounters the ghosts of five “dead kids” close to her age. Although she is understandably unsettled by her new friends, October realizes that their ability to move through walls and travel unseen might be the key to finding out what really happened to Mr. O’Shea.
Review: Veteran cartoonist Evan Munday’s quirky sense of humor leaks off the pages of his debut novel The Dead Kid Detective Agency, making for an enjoyable mystery and promising start to a new series for tweens. Since the author is Canadian and the book is set in Canada, American readers will have to get used to some of Munday’s references/vocabulary that differ slightly from what they’re used to. Once this is accomplished, however, young adults are sure to enjoy this witty story, full of pop-culture both past and present, comedy, a likable cast of characters, and even some of Munday’s cartoon art. October, the thirteen-year-old leading lady, will resonate with readers who have ever had to be the “new kid” at school or who have felt outcast by their more socially resilient peers. The addition of her ghost detective posse proves to be very entertaining, providing many opportunities for paranormal shenanigans, something that will undoubtedly keep the series entertaining as the following installments are published. Although many of the pop-culture references are likely to soar over the heads of younger readers (i.e. REO Speedwagon, The Wicker Man and Meatloaf), Munday’s inclusion of a “glossary” at the end of the novel makes the story more apropos for the tween audience. Overall, The Dead Kid Detective Agency is an easily enjoyable, entertaining and downright funny story that many young readers are sure to love. A preview of the second installment, set to be released in Spring 2013, can be found in the final pages of the book.
Reading level: Grade 5+
Similar titles: Gilda Joyce series by Jennifer Allison, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Tales of the Sinister City series by F.E. Higgins, The Tilting House by Tom Llewellyn.
Themes: Ghosts, mystery, murder, high school, horror novels, Canada.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Kirkus.
Series Information: First installment in the Dead Kid Detective Agency series. Sequel set to be released in Spring 2013.
- Have you ever had to be the “new kid” in school? What was it like? Do you think October’s initial experience at Sticksville Central was typical?
- Why do you think Ashlie Salmons is so mean to October? Have you ever known anyone like that?
- Do you think the author’s illustrations add to the story? Why or why not?
- Did you learn anything about Canadian history or pop culture after reading the story?
- Who is your favorite of the five “dead kids”? Why?
- What would you like to see happen in the next novel in this series?