Frenchie Garcia likes to talk to Emily Dickinson. The cemetery near her house has a grave for Emily Dickinson, and though it’s not the famous one, Frenchie likes to pretend. She views “Em” as a kind of imaginary friend–and that idea was what drew me into reading Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez.
As you might already guess, Frenchie is a somewhat unusual teenage girl, considering she feels a kinship with a reclusive poet, and thinks about death a little more than may be healthy. Frenchie is struggling with changes in her best friend, doubts about her plans post-high school, and a depression no one else seems to recognize the depths of. What no one realizes is that Frenchie’s worries are tied to one wild, unexpected evening she spent with Andy Cooper, a near-stranger but long-time crush. Andy committed suicide just hours later. Wracked with guilt and uncertainty, Frenchie sets out to re-create her evening with Andy, hoping to find answers.
Despite being about depression and death (and Dickinson), this book isn’t nearly as much of a downer as you might expect! Frenchie is experiencing a lot of darkness, but the book is fast-paced and ultimately more about life than death–so if you’re turned off by the apparent bleakness, I can tell you that I personally didn’t find it to be a depressing read. (Hmm, lots of Ds in that paragraph…)
Frenchie’s voice and character are strong even when she’s feeling lost. Many of her feelings are very relatable, even if she’s experiencing them to a more extreme degree than (I hope) most readers. There are questions about friendship, choosing a path in life, how well you can know a person, how to handle changes and let-downs, and what it all really means. Some of Frenchie’s apparently profound revelations felt a little basic, but I am older than both her and the book’s target audience, so that may be a factor there. On the whole, it addresses some powerful issues.
My favorite aspect to the book is actually a kind of subplot, around Frenchie’s best friend, Joel, and his (relatively) new girlfriend, Lily. The book is first person from Frenchie’s point of view, so we only have what she tells us about Lily–but it’s handled carefully enough that I could tell Frenchie wasn’t a reliable narrator on this subject. Most or all of her hostility towards Lily is unjustified by who Lily is. Though at the same time I can understand completely why Frenchie feels the way she does, so I felt sympathy for her. It was a nicely-handled presentation of a familiar scenario in teen books, but without the conventional conclusion to the situation.
My biggest reservation, on the other hand, is Colin, Frenchie’s choice to accompany her on this re-created night. He’s a near-stranger, which is what she needs for the situation, but I never quite believed that he was willing to go along for this apparently irrational ride. I get that he thinks she’s cute…but there was more than enough to scare just about any guy off. While so many other characters (Andy included) were complex and effective, Colin I found less believable.
I won’t tell you the ending, but I will say that it’s satisfying, without being too pat or neat. It ends positively, but not in a place of implausible solutions or easy answers. After all, you can’t have too happy an ending, when your book has “Dickinson” in the title! And, you know, “death” too.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review.
Author’s Site: http://jennytorressanchez.com/