The Less-Dead

The Less-Dead

5.0 1
by April Lurie

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Noah Nordstrom has been dissing the religious beliefs of his father, who hosts a popular Christian radio show and whom Noah accuses of spreading hate. When two local gay teens are murdered, Noah’s anti-evangelism intensifies—he’s convinced that the killer is a caller on his dad’s program.

Then Noah meets Will Reed, a cool guy. But when he

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Noah Nordstrom has been dissing the religious beliefs of his father, who hosts a popular Christian radio show and whom Noah accuses of spreading hate. When two local gay teens are murdered, Noah’s anti-evangelism intensifies—he’s convinced that the killer is a caller on his dad’s program.

Then Noah meets Will Reed, a cool guy. But when he learns that Will is gay, Noah gets a little weirded out. Especially since Will seems really into him. Noah gives Will the brush-off. Meanwhile, the killer is still at large . . . and soon Noah finds the next victim. It’s Will.

Racked with guilt, Noah decides to investigate. He knows the serial killer is targeting gay teens, but only those who live in foster homes, whose deaths are not that important to society; they are the less-dead. Noah, however, is determined to prove that someone cares. With the help of Will’s journal, which he pocketed at the scene of the crime and in which the killer has written clues, Noah closes in on an opponent more dangerous than he can guess.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Austin, Tex., 16-year-old Noah “despises church and religion and phony youth pastors who think it’s their job to save your soul.” Noah’s acts of rebellion have gotten him sent to an “alternative school for juvenile delinquents,” where he meets Will, a gay, homeless kid with whom he connects through a shared interest in music and poetry. When several gay teenagers are strangled and found with crosses carved into them and Bible passages nearby, Noah blames evangelical Christianity for contributing to an atmosphere of hate. And after Will becomes the next victim, Noah investigates the murder to avenge him. In her compelling mystery, Lurie (The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine) draws attention to the prejudice and hatred many gay teens face (the title is a reference to the idea that the deaths of youths like Will count less). While fundamentalism-fueled homophobia is central to the story, Lurie doesn’t dismiss or caricaturize Christianity either. Though the book’s politics can feel heavy-handed (an author’s note offers rebuttals to scriptural stances against homosexuality), readers should still find it suspenseful and emotional. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
VOYA - Amy S. Pattee
It is not easy being the teenaged son of the Bible Answer Guy, a nationally syndicated radio personality devoted to explaining Christian theology and Biblical passages. In fact, sixteen-year-old Noah considers it the first and largest of his problems. Sentenced to the alternative high school as punishment for eating hashish at public school, Noah is practically under house arrest and has been declared persona non grata by his girlfriend's family. Then Noah meets Will, a fellow alternative high school student and possibly the first gay person Noah he has ever met. When Will becomes the third victim of a homophobic serial killer who carves crosses on the chests of his victims and leaves Bible verses at the scene of the crime, Noah's skepticism of his father's Christianity grows while he confronts his own prejudices about homosexuality. Part mystery, part attempt to reassure readers that, as Lurie writes in an author's note, "most evangelicals today are not . . . hateful and outspoken," it is a difficult novel to categorize. Its author's note refutation of what Lurie calls "the only six references to homosexuality in the Bible" underscores the novel's deviation from traditional Christian fiction in terms of evangelical theology, making it a somewhat dubious recommendation for Christian readers interested in confirmation of and not challenges to their beliefs. At the same time, the novel's otherwise overt Christian ideology—the novel ends with the baptism of one of Noah's friends—make it a tough sell to readers who prefer their mysteries without theology. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee
Kirkus Reviews
When his new friend and two other gay homeless teens are murdered, Noah, a nearly burned-out musician with a penchant for partying and a radio evangelist for a dad, decides to investigate the case. The Bible provides a heavy-handed and formidable backdrop: Arguments are waged, Christian rock concerts are attended, grisly murders occur and fingers are pointed. Other tensions arise between Noah, who likes girls, and his new friend (and a murder victim) Will, who likes boys. At the most basic level, Lurie has wrought a compelling, edge-of-your-seat, thriller that will keep readers riveted to the end, even if they can identify the killer early on. Her characters are for the most part believably developed and will help readers maintain the suspension of disbelief they'll need in order to buy the plot. At times the religious themes feel didactic, but when the author adds everything up, the results fall somewhere between a fun, campy, teen horror film and a better-than-average afterschool special. (Mystery. YA)
From the Publisher
Review, Publishers Weekly, January 11, 2010:
"In her compelling mystery, Lurie draws attention to the prejudice and hatred many gay teens face ... Suspenseful and emotional."

Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2009:
"Lurie has wrought a compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep readers riveted to the end."

Children's Literature - Margaret Orto
Lately seventeen-year-old poetry-loving, song-writing, guitar-playing Noah Nordstrom finds himself at odds with his evangelist parents, especially his father, the famous host of a Christian radio show. Their dirrerences are apparent on issues of God, the Bible, the church, and homosexuality. Noah lives in the live-music mecca of Austin, Texas, amidst an eclectic and colorful mix of Bible-belt religious conservatives and liberal-minded believers and non-believers. When Noah meets and befriends Will, a gay teen who is in the foster-care system, his seemingly liberal views on homosexuality are tested. Soon after Noah and Will meet, Will is brutally murdered by a serial killer targeting gay foster teens. These teens are known as the "less-dead" because the deaths of these marginalized youths so often go unnoticed by the larger society. Noah, suffering from guilt for his behavior towards Will at the end of his life, pursues the mystery of Will's untimely death. At times, the dialogue comes across as didactic rather than natural, and Noah's naivete about the killer toward the end of the book is frustrating and unrealistic. Despite these flaws, Lurie creates, overall, a compelling mystery while tackling the complicated subject of homosexuality and Christianity in a meaningful and logical way. The book should prove helpful for teens who are around gay teenagers or who are gay themselves. Her characters refer to and use biblical passages throughout the book effectively and convincingly. Lurie's own knowledge of and reflection about the Bible is evident throughout. Her author's note at the back of the book refuting the six "clobber" passages that evangelicals quote to uphold their stance against homosexuality is especially persuasive and useful. Reviewer: Margaret Orto
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Part mystery, part morality tale, The Less-Dead preaches tolerance through a story about a serial killer murdering gay teens. In Lurie's convincingly drawn corner of Austin, TX, youth groups and church camps dominate the social scene. Noah Nordstrom, son of radio personality Bible Answer Guy, is as much a rebel for his anti-evangelism as for the drug offense that got him sent to an alternative school. When a local gay teen in foster care is murdered, with a quote from Leviticus left nearby, Noah suspects that a homophobic caller to his father's show is responsible. His interest in the case becomes personal when he meets Will. Although Noah wants to respect gay people—both for moral reasons and to annoy his father—he is initially uncomfortable and hostile when Will reveals that he is interested in him. Then Will is killed. Noah uses his unique knowledge of him, including a journal of his poetry stolen from the crime scene, to investigate. Unsurprisingly, Noah learns there is more than meets the eye to a variety of characters: the tough-looking kid at school, the member of a homophobic church who is arrested for the murders, and, of course, the person who turns out to be the real killer. This is an adequate mystery, but savvy gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens, or those who already have LGBT people in their lives, may be underwhelmed by the message of tolerance.—Megan Honig, New York Public Library

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Less-Dead

By April Lurie

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2010 April Lurie
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385906265


I suppose my biggest problem is that my father is the Bible Answer Guy. In case you've never heard his radio show, it's on Monday through Friday, ten a.m., on KMBJ. Not that you'd actually want to tune in. You don't. First they play this seriously crappyinspirational music, and then my dad comes on to answer questions from listeners who call in from all over the country. He's pretty famous. But if you were feeling slightly masochistic and happened to check it out, it would give you a good idea of what it'slike to be me--his sixteen-year-old son who despises church and religion and phony youth pastors who think it's their job to save your soul.  

A highly popular question on my dad's program is "Dr. Nordstrom, what, in your opinion, is the unpardonable sin?" Well, I don't need my dad to answer that one. In my family, the unpardonable sin is getting sent to the Rock--an alternative school for juvenile delinquents--for eating Ritz crackers topped with apricot-hash jelly right before AP music theory. Which is what Carson, my best friend and fellow band member, and I did about a month ago.  

It was early September, and technically, we were performing an experiment--to see how altered states of consciousness affected perceptions of tone and pitch. Very importantif you aspire to play live music. We thought our teacher, Mr. Flynn, would be coolwith this, since he's only twenty-five and supposedly open-minded, but we were wrong. And stupid. When he asked us to step outside class and tell him what was so hilarious about a G note on the treble clef, we told him about the jelly. Carson's recipe, by the way. He nodded and sighed and told us sadly that if he didn't report us, his job would be on the line. So he led Carson and me, like lambs to the slaughter, to the eleventh-grade principal, who sentenced us to sixty days.  

As you can imagine, this whole ordeal was a complete embarrassment to my father. It's not easy to be the Bible Answer Guy when you've got a reprobate son. And since I'd been getting into quite a bit of trouble over the summer--making out in the woods with Aubrey at the You're Worth the Wait youth retreat, coming home drunk at four a.m. after a gig at Ben Huber's birthday party, and skipping church to get high with Carson at the Barton Creek Greenbelt--my parents decided to crack down on me, practice what they call tough love--a phrase coined by the Reverend Billy Graham or some other evangelical hotshot. Basically it means unlimited slave labor, a twelve o'clock curfew, and the removal of all evil influences from my life, Carson being number one on the list.  

Obviously I didn't cooperate, and when my parents realized I was a lost cause, they started locking me out of the house at night if I missed my curfew. But as it turned out, this punishment was harder on them than on me. I know this because my little sister, Melanie, always tells me about how Dad gets real quiet and Mom bawls her eyes out whenever I don't come home. Which makes me feel kind of guilty, but then again, I'm not the one turning the key, am I?  

Anyway, I missed my curfew again, so that's why I'm standing here now at two in the morning, tossing pebbles at Carson's bedroom window. Finally it slides open, and his head pops out. "Noah? Is that you?" Carson's trying to grow dreadlocks, mostly to torture his dad, and right now he's got his hair tied up in a million multicolored rubber bands that are supposed to speed up the matting process. He looks like the Kosmic Koosh Ball I bought Melanie for Christmas last year.  

"No, my sweet Roxanne," I say, "it is I, your beloved Cyrano."  

He groans. "Noah, come on, give it up already."  

"My nose may be large," I declare, "but other parts of me are even larger. Come into the light so I may gaze upon your beauty while I recite my love poems." This is sort of a running joke between me and Carson. After our English class read Cyrano de Bergerac, Carson started calling me Cyrano. Not because I have a huge schnoz or anything, but because I like poetry. So whenever I show up at Carson's window after midnight, I create a new balcony scene.

"Listen, I'll be right there. But keep your voice down. The DPCP just went to bed and he's pissed."  

"Oh, okay. Sorry, man." DPCP stands for Demon-Possessed Capitalist Pig. It's what Carson calls his father, who's the president of this very successful company that makes prosthetic limbs. You know, fake arms and legs. He's also an atheist, which I find rather fascinating.  

I head to the backyard, and a minute later Carson unlocks the door of his 2.3-million-dollar house, located in one of the richest neighborhoods in Austin. Earlier tonight we played a gig at Greg Ziegler's party, and I was the only loser who had a curfew. Carson's parents are pretty strict, but not completely unreasonable like mine. "What happened?" he says. "You left the party at eleven. Said you'd make it home before twelve."  

"Yeah, well, I got sidetracked."  

"You mean you stopped by Aubrey's again. You're pathetic, Noah, you know that? Come on." He leads me into the kitchen, opens the freezer, and grabs two pints of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia. I practically live at Carson's house and his mom buys it especially for me. "Let me guess," he says. "Aubrey's dad answered the door, whipped out a King James and a chastity belt, and preached to you about the evils of premarital sex."  

Carson's trying to cheer me up, but I can barely crack a smile. Aubrey's father is the pastor of my church--a huge obstacle when it comes to my love life. "No. Aubrey answered the door, but she wouldn't let me in. Plus, she smelled alcohol on my breath,and freaked. Anyway, we got into a pretty bad argument. She . . . well, she said she didn't want to see me anymore."  

Carson sighs and slides a pint of ice cream over to me. "Dig in, dude. It'll ease the pain."  

I try a spoonful, but it doesn't work. The truth is I can't stop thinking about Aubrey. And even though Carson won't admit it, I know he misses her too. The three of us had been close friends since seventh grade, but everything got screwed up this summer at that stupid You're Worth the Wait youth retreat. Carson didn't go--the DPCP would never pay for a weekend of Christian propaganda--but Aubrey and I went, mostly because our parents twisted our arms, but we figured that between sessions on sexual purity,we could go water-skiing, blobbing, and zip-lining. We could also sneak out of class, which we did. One afternoon, Aubrey and I ditched "The Perils of Kissing," and after we laughed our heads off about it, Aubrey dared me to kiss her.  

We were in the woods, halfway to the lake. At first I thought she was joking, but when I looked into her eyes, I saw that she wasn't. I'd been secretly lusting after Aubrey since the beginning of sophomore year, but we'd been friends so long I'd been afraid to make a move. Soon we were pressed up against a tree, making out like crazy, until a guy from Christian dork patrol spotted us. Aubrey got into a lot of trouble--her parents grounded her for two weeks--and when Carson and I got kicked out of school a few weeks later for the hash jelly experiment, Aubrey's father, Pastor Simpson, decided I was Satan's spawn and put his foot down. Outside church, Aubrey wasn't allowed to see me. Now I'd do anything to go back to the way things were. Even if it meant just being friends.  

I take another spoonful of ice cream. "So, what's the DPCP pissed about this time?" I say.  

Carson rolls his eyes. "Same old crap. He wants me to get a job after school. Says I'm lazy and undisciplined." He screws up his face, pulls his dreads to the side like a comb-over, and does his best DPCP impersonation. "You'd better practice flipping burgers, Son, because the only people who'd hire you with that . . . that hair are the freaks at Lou's Grease Pit."  

Carson's got me laughing now. I guess I'm lucky in a way. The Bible Answer Guy doesn't pressure me to get a job, because he's hoping I'll go back to pitching for McCallum High once I get out of the Rock. That's his other religion, by the way. Baseball.  

"Or, how about this?" I say. "You could dress up like a slice of pizza and wave to people outside Hungry Howie's. That way, no one would see your hair or your face."  

Carson glares at me. "Noah, come on, this is not funny! We're musicians! Artists! We can't be tied down to menial jobs. Besides, if you and I are ever going to write that breakout song--one that will rock the world--it's going to take time, sacrifice."  

"True." I dig up a monster-sized cherry, pop it into my mouth, and chew. The taste reminds me of kissing Aubrey.   Carson's really wired now. He stands up and practically knocks over his chair.

"Listen, Noah, we need to stop messing around. I mean, what are we doing playing gigs at high school parties? We're way too talented for that. Think about it! We live in Austin.The live-music capital of the world! We need to escape the evils of suburbia and get out there. Downtown! Sixth Street! The Drag!"  

"But we're only sixteen," I say. "And we don't have any experience."  

"It doesn't matter! Here, look at this." Carson grabs the entertainment section of the newspaper and points to a photo of a guy playing guitar. He has a mop of curly hair. "That's Sean Espinoza. He's fifteen. He plays Tuesdays at the Saxon Pub."  

"Really?" I peer more closely. This guy Sean's got a real baby face. Pimples, too. I scan the article. It says that besides talent, Sean's got a solid work ethic, and if he keeps playing, he might be Austin's next Stevie Ray. "But I don't get it," I say."I thought you had to be twenty-one to get into the Saxon Pub."  

Carson groans like I'm the most naive guy on the planet, which I sort of am after having spent half my life in church. "Dude, not if you're the performing artist. Look, right here it says that Sean began as a street performer on the Drag. People liked his music, word got around, and next thing you know, he's a star! Come on, what do you say we go down there tomorrow?"  

"Hmmm . . ." I don't have the heart to tell Carson that tomorrow, Saturday, to atone for my many sins, I'm supposed to cut the grass, weed-whack, and paint the back fence. But suddenly an idea pops into my head. The Drag, aka Guadalupe Street, is where the zealots from my youth group go every Saturday to witness to the lost. They claim Satan has a stronghold on the Drag because of its new age shops, tattoo parlors, dive bars, and drug dealers, and they have to win it back for the Lord. Anyway, my parents would never refuse if I told them I wanted to hang with the youth group on Saturday. And if I was bringing Carson along, well, maybe he'd listen to the gospel and get saved. Of course, little would they know, Carson and I would be spreading our own gospel: rock and roll.  

"What do you say, Noah? Are you with me or not?"  

"Yeah, man. I'm with you. Totally."  

"All right, then." Carson holds out his fist. I bump it. "Tomorrow, we take our guitars to the Drag. Show Austin what we've got."   We finish off the pints of Ben & Jerry's, and Carson heads back to bed. I'm not tired yet, so I spread out the newspaper on the kitchen table. I'm about to reread the Sean Espinoza story, but something else catches my eye. A blurb on the front page of the Metro section.    


A man is being held without bail for the brutal murder of Austin teenager Kyle Lester, who was found dead on Sept. 9 in the back alley of Urban Legend, a popular gay bar on Sixth Street--the city's live-entertainment district.

I can hardly breathe. About a month ago, right before I got kicked out of school and things were getting pretty hairy between me and my parents, there was this psycho who kept calling in to my dad's radio show. The guy seemed intelligent and knowledgeable about the Bible, but after a while it was clear that he was completely warped. He'd call in with a question but would soon begin to rant about Austin's gay community and how God was going to bring judgment upon them.  

My dad always gave the guy his lame, standard answer concerning homosexuality--hate the sin but love the sinner--but soon the guy became so angry and belligerent that my father stopped taking his calls. One week later, a gay eighteen-year-old boy, KyleLester, was strangled to death outside Urban Legend. A cross had been carved into his chest. The killer left behind a rope, the murder weapon. Along with it, a note--letters cut from newspaper.    

Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from The Less-Dead by April Lurie Copyright © 2010 by April Lurie. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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