My first encounter with Kaz Delaney was at the inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival in 2013, and she left an impression of a bubbling personality and a flair for bling. Also writing as Kerri Lane, she had over fifty children’s and YA books published, and her YA novel Dead, Actually was garnering awards. As I got to know her a little better at writing events, her warmth and generosity outshone the bling.
So, when I finally opened Dead, Actually, I wanted to like it. I was a volunteer at the National Young Writers Festival last year (though I’m many years past the target audience) and was baby-sitting a room with a computer where festival-goers could come and write a contribution to the festival website. Without a lot to keep me busy, I bought Dead, Actually.
After a few pages, I sighed with relief. The lovely lady who was so encouraging, who wanted to foster children’s and YA authors and was so gracious to beginners could also tell a great story. It might seem obvious that such a well-published writer would tell a great story, but how often do you read a book by a well-known author and find you don’t like their work? So much about what we love in books is subjective; if it wasn’t, everyone would agree on what the best books are, we’d all read the same genres, and very few writers would find an audience. In this case, though, I could tell Kaz that I loved her book – and mean it. At this year’s Newcastle Writers Festival, I bought the sequel, Almost Dead.
Dead, Actually is about Willow, a teen who finds herself a magnet for the ghost of a classmate. JoJo is just as obnoxious dead as she was alive, and harasses Willow into investigating the mysterious circumstances around her death. Willow needs to convince her best friend, Macey, and Macey’s brother, Seth (who she’s crushed on for years), that she’s not crazy. She also has to deal with JoJo’s shallow and vindictive friends, who are clearly hiding something. Then the whole thing starts to get dangerous.
Almost Dead follows Macey after Willow has gone off on a long holiday in Europe. Since the JoJo incident, Macey has become sensitized to ghosts and they’ve been turning up in her bedroom with alarming regularity. She’s worked out how to get rid of them, but when a new guy her own age turns up he doesn’t take the hint. With no one to help, Macey has to work out this by herself. Then she discovers that he’s not dead – not yet.
Both stories are set in the world of privileged Gold Coast society. These kids are rich. They live in huge houses, have their own cars, designer clothes and anything they want, but both girls struggle with dysfunctional families. In both novels the girls’ relationships with their parents are integral to the plot, and provide a depth to the characters that the paranormal and romantic elements play against.
The romance in each story is secondary to the paranormal/mystery elements, but is handled well to give a satisfying resolution in each. It’s kept PG, erring on the G-rated side, but there’s enough emotional intensity to keep it interesting. It’s the mystery that drives each story forward, though, and keeps the pages turning when you should be doing something else.
Kaz writes in a style that’s easy to read (I finished each book in two sittings) and well paced. She’s captured the way teenagers talk and behave in a way that isn’t tied to a particular place or is likely to date quickly, and her heroines and heroes are smart, courageous and flawed. They’re the sort of people you’d like to have as friends if you’re a teenager, and it wouldn’t hurt that they’re rich, have great cars, and you could hang out at their houses.
Dead, Actually won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel in 2012, and the Favourite Paranormal in 2012 in the Australian Romance Writers Association Awards. It was also long listed for a Davitt Award for Best Children’s/YA.
Update: Almost Dead is long-listed for the Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards – Young Adult Novel, 2015.
Dead Actually, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin
Published: March 2012
Almost Dead, by Kaz Delaney
Allen & Unwin
Published: January 2014