Book Review – Dead Popular by Sue Wallman

Pages: 272
Published: 1st August 2019
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Trigger warnings: Child death, sexual assault

The reigning queen bee, Kate, knows that you don’t become the most powerful girl at school by playing nice. But when other students start revealing long-held secrets anonymously, she realizes someone is playing a much more dangerous game – and they know too much about Kate’s past. If she doesn’t figure out who’s behind this, her final year at Pankhurst could be exactly that: her final year.

Any book that begins with the discovery of a dead body immediately piques my interest. It brings about a feeling of mystery and intrigue right from the very start and makes you wonder how events transpired to result in such an incident. And here it is done with a great deal of aptitude, as it gives the story an air of menace and foreboding that it would otherwise have lacked.

It is a book that touches on a number of interesting themes and contains a setting which I really enjoyed getting to discover. A continually steady pace and the engaging writing also helped to make me feel more invested, but despite a major twist and a dramatic increase in tension towards the end, the plot just seemed to be a tad lacking in terms of structure.

The main protagonist is Kate – or Kate Lynette Jordan-Ferreira as she often likes to remind us – and the story begins as she embarks on her fifth year at Mount Norton boarding school, an institution that specialises in the Arts. At the same time, she and her friends have to deal with Ms Calding, their new housemistress who takes a very strict approach to following the rules.

As one of the house prefects, Kate is expected by her fellow students to organise a party to remember. When it eventually takes place it ends in trauma and tragedy, as Kate’s past actions come back to haunt her and go on to severely damage her friendships, leaving her more vulnerable as it becomes clear that someone is out to get her.

Once the characters and the setting had been established, most of the first half of the book was simply building up to the party and the events that would occur. At this point it felt like there were endless possibilities for where the story might lead, but as the plot began to unravel, the path it ultimately chose to go down left me with mixed feelings.

It felt like the author was trying to be slightly too intricate and the outcome was that the story did not leave as much of an impact as I was hoping for. Even after the ending, which was extremely tense and one of the most gripping parts of the book, the epilogue wrapped things up a little bit too neatly for my liking.

Some of the themes are conveyed very well. At the beginning Kate says she is beautiful and she knows it, which might initially come across as quite vain, but there turns out to much more to this beneath the surface which is explored in good depth. It also deals strongly with the topic of sexual harassment, although there were some other ideas over the course of the book that could have used being expanded upon a little more.

Except for the prologue, the whole book is written in the first person from Kate’s perspective. I was unsure about her at first and she undeniably had some flaws, but she definitely grew on me. There were times where I thought she lacked a bit of personality, but I really liked how she developed as a character as the story moved on.

It feels rare for me to say this, but I actually enjoyed the romance element. It felt natural and not at all contrived, and it did not get in the way of the main plot. Indeed, Monro was probably the best written out of all the supporting characters, even if some his actions around the middle of the book did not make a lot of sense and only acted as a misguided attempt to add an extra helping of mystery to the plot.

A boarding school setting is always fun, and I thought this one was very well-realised. Mount Norton and the surrounding beaches were described in a way that enabled me to visualise it quite clearly in my mind, which made it easier to connect with the story as a whole. It is a recurring theme for Sue Wallman’s books to take place in one primary setting, and this was one of her better ones.

Overall, I enjoyed several aspects of the story including the setting, the romance, and the messages that it was trying to communicate to a young adult audience. My main issues lay with the plot that tried too hard to be complex and some half-baked ideas, but I found it mostly to be a quick and pleasantly engaging read.

A fun read. It did not blow me away, but there were enough things to like and to keep me invested.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐

5 thoughts on “Book Review – Dead Popular by Sue Wallman

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