My So-Called Death

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Just because you don't have a pulse doesn't mean you can't be perky.

One second, freshman Karen Vera's on top of the most fabulous cheer pyramid ever. The next, she's lying on the pavement with seriously unflattering cranial damage. Freakishly alive without a pulse, Karen learns that she's a genetically undead zombie.

Suddenly, Karen's non-life is an epic disaster. She's forced to attend a boarding school for...

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Overview

Just because you don't have a pulse doesn't mean you can't be perky.

One second, freshman Karen Vera's on top of the most fabulous cheer pyramid ever. The next, she's lying on the pavement with seriously unflattering cranial damage. Freakishly alive without a pulse, Karen learns that she's a genetically undead zombie.

Suddenly, Karen's non-life is an epic disaster. She's forced to attend a boarding school for the "death-challenged," her roommate is a hateful wannabe-Goth weirdo, and she's chowing down on animal brains every day to prevent rot (um, ew?). Even worse, someone is attacking students and harvesting their brains for a forbidden dark ritual. And it might be the hottest guy at DEAD High, the one who makes Karen's non-beating heart flutter!

Armed with a perky smile and killer fashion sense, it's up to Karen to track down the brain snatcher and save her fellow students from certain zombie death.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Unlike Jay's You Are So Undead to Me and Undead Much, the heroine of her latest novel doesn't beat zombies—she joins 'em. After an accident cracks open her skull, 14-year-old cheerleader Karen discovers that she is one of the “Death Challenged,” and she agrees to attend DEAD High (“Death-Challenged Education for Adolescents and the Deprogrammed”). Adjusting to lunch menus that list “Popcorn pig brain bites” and being wary of maggots (“a zombie's only natural predator”) isn't easy, but the story takes off after the illegal brain harvesting of a student. For the death-challenged, brain removal can lead to permanent death if the brain is not restored within days, leading to a race to find the thief. As the brain thefts continue, Karen suspects sexy swimmer Gavin, but the murder of Karen's closest friend somehow leads her to team up with him. Though not for the faint of heart, the premise and gruesome details (“the back of my skull burst open like a pomegranate seed”) should appeal to those with a dark sense of humor. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
Peppered with gross-out humor, the camp flows freely in this latest zombie comedy from Jay. As the novel opens, perky cheerleader Karen Vera plummets to a messy death from the top of a human pyramid. Confused that she seems to be fine even though her brain is leaking out the back of her skull, she learns what is going on when a strange woman named Principal Samedi arrives at her door with an invitation to attend a special boarding school. She explains that Karen possesses a genetic mutation that causes her to go on living after her body has died-so long as she maintains a steady diet of animal brains. The heroine's breezy narrative voice is authentic and often funny, and her protracted crush on fellow student Gavin McDougal (whom Karen secretly thinks of as "McDoMe") will appeal to romance fans. However, pieces of this story may feel too derivative for some readers-such as the schism at the school between natural and "deprogrammed" zombies, which closely parallels the Muggle-born versus wizard-born dichotomy of Harry Potter. (Supernatural comedy. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738715438
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 3/28/2010
  • Pages: 229
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Stacey Jay (Little Rock, Arkansas) is a workaholic and author of books for young adults. She has four kids, a decidedly sick sense of humor, and loves creepies, crawlies, blood, guts, and of course romance. Visit her online at www.staceyjay.com.

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First Chapter

MY SO-CALLED DEATH


By Stacey Jay

Flux

Copyright © 2010 Stacey Jay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7387-1543-8


Chapter One

A genetic anomaly means that a gene has been modified by an accident called a mutation. This mutation changes the function of the gene, which gives information to the body that is different than the information received by the majority of human life forms.

Many Traditionally Alive people assume such a mutation can only lead to disease or death, but for the Death Challenged, our genetic anomaly leads to an entirely new way of life.

-Total Health for the Death Challenged, 5th Edition

My very short-lived career at Peachtree High ended the day I fell from the top of the stunt pyramid and died. But didn't. That day I found out I wasn't ever going to die a normal death. Because I wasn't a normal person, I was a genetic anomaly. A mutation. A defect.

I'll stick with anomaly. It certainly sounds nicer, doesn't it? (Good thing I have that healthy self-esteem. Otherwise the whole "mutant" diagnosis could have done some major emotional damage.)

In brief, I am Death Challenged.

So what is Death Challenged, exactly?

Death Challenged is just a politically correct term-like horizontally gifted (fat) or petroleum transfer technician (gas station attendant)-for a zombie. It didn't take me long to figure that one out, no matter how traumatized I was for the first twenty-four hours of my non-death.

There's just about nothing more terrifying than falling to your death and having your brains splattered all over the pavement. Unless it's falling to your undeath and having your brains splattered all over the pavement.

Thank god my parents were there in the stands supporting me, even though Dad is a professor of Medieval Literature who hates football and Mom spent most of the game on the grassy area near the stands letting the trips crawl around and drool on each other. (The trips are my one-year-old brothers and sister: Kyle, Keith, and Kimmy. My parents had triplets when I was thirteen. And they were goofy enough to name all of their children with K names. How lame are they? I'd be embarrassed to share if I weren't dedicated to historical accuracy, much like my professorial father.)

So Mom and Dad were there when the back of my skull burst open like a pomegranate seed and it looked like I'd bit the big one. But hadn't.

They both rushed to my side to find my brains all splattery and me without a pulse, but still mysteriously conscious and complaining that Kevin Jenkins deserved to have his head beaten to a bloody pulp for what he'd done. Luckily, my dad's research into our family's history had revealed some interesting phenomena when it came to our deaths-or nondeaths-so he wasn't too freaked.

Back in Cuba, Dad's great-great-aunt had been chased out of her seaside village for looking about twenty years old when she hit her sixtieth birthday. No matter how nice she was or how kick-ass her Ropa Vieja (literally "old clothes," but also a name for yummy shredded flank steak in a tomato-based sauce), the other villagers got creeped and thought she was a witch.

But according to family legend, this aunt survived the witch hunt and her flight from her native country and was still alive and kicking today, living somewhere in Venezuela. And she wasn't the only weirdo. There were others, including a great-great-great-grandfather in Spain and a ninety-year-old third cousin who could still pass for a man in his early thirties.

Dad had been trying to get in touch with all three for years to get the real story and separate fact from folklore, but had met with little success. Mom, of course, thought Dad was nuts and all the stories a bunch of bull-honkey. Until that day on the football field when her own daughter became one of the family freaks. Then she became a believer. Big time.

So while Mom hyperventilated and rounded up the trips and the crowd gasped and wept to see a beloved spirit leader so seriously injured, Dad scooped my brains back into my skull and hustled me to the car before the paramedics could arrive on the scene. Thank god he did. I mean, even the Death Challenged need brains to function. And I don't know what would have happened if normal people had figured out I was Undead.

I probably would have ended up in some sort of top-secret government experimental facility hooked up to a million tubes. The creepy men-in-black types would certainly have wanted to know why I was still chatting people up days after my heart stopped beating.

Instead, I got a visit from the principal of DEAD High herself, Theresa Samedi. The doorbell rang only seconds after we'd arrived home, and Dad opened the door to a very unique looking visitor.

"Don't worry. I know what's happened to your daughter, and I'm here to help."

Samedi's super-pale skin, short, spiky black hair, and long, flowing black dress would normally have freaked out my straight-laced dad big time. He's very anti-goth, and has been known to pass out fingernail-polish remover and notes suggesting counseling to college guys in his classes who do the black nail thing. My mom says he's just old-fashioned, but I think there might be a fingernail polish phobia involved. My grandmother has really long nails and is always touching up her manicure, even at the dinner table. Dad says the smell gives him a migraine, and he has to "take to his bed" for several days after Nana comes to visit. Issues, much? I say he should take a cue from himself and seek out the school counselor.

But I guess Samedi's words and the compassion in her big, almost black-brown eyes put Dad at ease, because he let her in, no questions asked. Luckily for curious individuals like myself, however, she explained her presence right away. Turns out she's super tuned in to the psychic vibrations of the Undead and knew the exact moment when I crossed the line from perky alive cheerleader to perky zombie splatter victim. (Just because you don't have a pulse doesn't mean you can't be perky.)

"You mean ... she's dead, but she's not?" Dad asked, once introductions had been made and we were all comfy on the couches in our living room.

"No, she's dead," Principal Samedi said, ruffling her fingers through her spiked hair all casual-like. As if this weren't the worst news ever! "Her heart will never beat again, her core body temperature will be much lower than an average person's, and her skin will be vulnerable to rot if she doesn't take the proper precautions."

Ewww! Rot? For a second I thought I might yack at the very word, but then Samedi handed me a box of popcorn chicken-you've got to love it when company brings treats-and I realized I was famished. I mean, like, hungrier than I'd ever been in my life. I started scarfing while Principal Samedi chatted up my parents, explaining the genetic mutation stuff.

"When we become something society cannot accept, we must find a new society." Samedi smiled and handed my parents some pretty colored brochures showing all these happy zombie kids studying up on a new way of death at DEAD High. That really is the name of the school. The institute of Death Challenged Education for Adolescents and the Deprogrammed.

"A school? For ... dead people?" Mom asked, looking understandably freaked.

"Undead adolescents," Samedi corrected. "There are schools for educating those who become Undead later in life, but DEAD High is strictly for teenagers in seventh through twelfth grades. We're the oldest Undead boarding school in the central United States."

"We've never considered boarding school. We want Karen at home," Mom said, struggling to concentrate while the trips crawled all over her, whining and fussing.

My sister and brothers sensed something was wrong, and, in their babyness, had decided being held by Mom was the only thing that would give them comfort. Too bad she didn't have a few extra arms. Humans were clearly not designed for the "more than one baby at a time" thing. I didn't know what god was smoking when he decided my mom needed three little blessings at the ripe old age of thirty-seven.

"I'm afraid it will no longer be possible for Karen to live with you, or in the human world at all," Samedi said in her calm, authoritative voice.

"Excuse me, but who are you to tell me what is or isn't possible for my daughter?" Mom asked in her less calm but equally authoritative voice.

"Let's hear Principal Samedi out. We're out of our element here, honey." Dad plucked Kimmy from Mom's lap, begging her with his eyes not to pick a fight with the creepy zombie lady. In that second, I saw that he was scared of Samedi. This probably would have made me scared of her too (my dad's no wimp, despite his glasses and aversion to strenuous exercise) if the popcorn chicken I was chowing wasn't so amazingly yummy. I mean, how could a woman who brought such hot, greasy goodness be bad?

"Yes, please. Do let me explain." Samedi leaned closer to Mom and Mom chilled out, almost like Samedi had hypnotized her or something. I'd certainly never seen my mom recover from pissed-offedness so quickly before. But maybe she was just going into a mild state of shock. Death-even when it was an "undeath"-probably had that effect on a lot of people. "Over the centuries, the Death Challenged have learned that we must keep a low profile. Integration with living society is simply not possible for our kind. It isn't safe for us to reveal our true nature."

"Because people are afraid. Intolerant of anything extremely different," Dad said, in his professor voice.

"Exactly. Invariably, the Undead are hunted out and destroyed, no matter how civilized our behavior or how earnestly we seek to integrate ourselves into the human world." Samedi's words sent a little chill down my spine as visions of zombie-hating mobs danced through my head.

Mobs. Not a good thing. Unless it's a mob gathered at a pep rally to get psyched up for a big game, and even then you have to be careful. School spirit can be as destructive as any other deep, passionate emotion if it's allowed to get out of hand.

"So we've created several secret schools, places where young people can complete their conventional education while also learning the skills they'll need to survive and thrive as a member of the Death Challenged community. Our world is ... different, and Karen will need help to adjust."

"So how much does this school cost?" Dad, ever the practical member of our family. "Karen has a small college fund, but we'd planned on her getting free tuition at the university where I teach, so-"

"The school is fully funded by donations from older, established members of our community. There will be no out-of-pocket expenses for your family, aside from school supplies and whatever Karen will need to make her dorm room comfortable."

Dorm room? Ugh, did I want to live in a dorm room?

I wasn't sure, but I seemed unable to concentrate on anything but shoveling more chicken in my mouth. Dang, but the stuff was good. Addictive, even. I could see it replacing chocolate as my number one food jones.

"I promise you, Mr. Vera," Samedi said, laying a small, white hand on Dad's arm, "Karen will be well taken care of."

"What if we say no? What if we think Karen should stay with us?" Mom asked, seeming to come out of her trance when Samedi shifted her attention to my dad.

My new principal turned her slightly less friendly black-brown eyes back to Mom. I swear I could feel the room get a little colder. Samedi was nice, but man, I wouldn't want to be on her bad side. "Once the funeral has been held and-"

"Funeral?" Mom's volume made the trips start fussing even more, but I could still hear Samedi's calm voice over the din.

"Karen will have to have a funeral and be mourned by her loved ones as if she has passed on. She must be dead in the living world's eyes."

"But I-"

"She will be able to return home to visit," Samedi said, calming my mom down a bit. "That is, assuming your family observes the rules of our community and Karen learns to cloak her true appearance with the proper illusion spell."

"We can do magic? Like witches?" I asked.

"No, nothing like witches."

Well. Kill that buzz before it even got started.

"Our magic is based in death, in darkness, and as a consequence is unpredictable and dangerous." Samedi's voice held a warning I didn't understand. "You will be instructed in basic spells that will facilitate your continued interaction with your family and the human world. Nothing more."

"So she gets to be human and come home. Why are we faking a funeral?" Mom asked, her frustration clear.

Samedi sighed. "Karen will be able to interact with the human world, but she will never be human and she will never be known to humans as Karen Vera. The High Council of the United States will not allow it. She will have to assume another identity."

"So you're telling me I've lost my daughter."

"Mom, you haven't lost me," I said, snapped out of my chicken-chomping haze by the sound of tears in Mom's voice. "I'm right here. It's just a new school."

"Right. Just a new school." My mom started crying for real, but then the triplets started screaming and wailing and tearing each other's hair out in a prelude to their own feeding frenzy (hungry babies, nearly as scary as hungry zombies), and she had to pull it together.

Surprisingly, she seemed mostly okay by the time she fetched the trips some Cheerios to gnaw on while she cooked macaroni and cheese. Mourning my loss came second to feeding my siblings-which hurt, despite the fact that I was glad to see Mom chill out.

"I know this is a lot to take in," Samedi said in a hushed voice, like she didn't want Mom, who was busy in the kitchen, to hear what she was saying. "But we are the only facility in our area equipped to provide for Karen's continuing education while preparing her for the unique needs of her Death Challenged life."

"What kind of unique needs?" I asked around a mouthful of food, assuming it was okay to talk with my mouth full since I'd just been through a traumatic event.

"Well, for one thing, your physical body is now even more precious than it was before," Samedi said, addressing me in the same tone she'd used with Dad, winning her big points in my book. "You could potentially live for hundreds of years, and you're going to have to learn to take very good care of your mortal flesh."

Hmmm ... hundreds of years. That could be cool.

"You'll also run the risk of being confused with black magically raised zombies." She then went on to explain how black magically raised zombies are mindless, scary, red-glowing-eyed freaks who want to chow on human flesh and not much else.

"And I thought they were only in Romero films," Dad said, earning a chuckle from the principal.

Some old person joke, I guessed, continuing to munch.

"No, they're real. And there are paranormally gifted humans who devote their lives to slaying the creatures." Samedi's smile faded as she continued. "Some of them know about the Death Challenged and will take the time to differentiate between the two. But there are others who believe any Undead who refuses to return to the grave deserves to be destroyed."

"Destroyed like ... killed for real?" A shiver ran down my spine when she nodded. So my zombie mob fears were not unfounded.

"I'm afraid so. And I've only attracted more negative attention with my work with the Deprogrammed teens in the area," she said.

"They're different than the Death Challenged kids?" I asked.

Samedi nodded. "Sometimes, black magically raised zombies can have their soul returned to their body if their corpse was raised within a year of their death. And if the proper spells are employed before they develop a taste for human blood."

Ugh. Taste for human blood. Gross. Finally, my chicken craving began to fade.

"Those who hunt the Undead consider the Deprogrammed abominations who will eventually return to the murderous business they were raised for, but I haven't found that to be the case. Once the dark power that controls the black magically raised is banished, many go on to lead existences very similar to the naturally Death Challenged. A number of them even study at our school."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from MY SO-CALLED DEATH by Stacey Jay Copyright © 2010 by Stacey Jay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Absolutely perfect for the Zombie-naive

    Fans of You Are So Undead To Me will find this zombie book full of familiar perkiness yet definitely cut in a different cloth - more along the lines of Generation Dead and I Kissed A ZOMBIE, And I Liked It. If you prefer an intelligent zombie with a little perk, then My So-Called Death will suit your zombie needs!

    Stacey Jay really captured the voice of a perky, go-getter girl - so much that I could not help but laugh at how chipper Karen stayed despite being a zombie and enduring undeserved suspicion from her fellow undead peers due to her love of pink and possible involvement of the brain-snatching.

    Not to mention, Stacey Jay definitely created an awesome high school for the undead with deliciously disgusting lunch menus that involves brains - animal, of course - and educational classes for those who could possibly live forever and may want to integrate back into the "living" society.

    My So-Called Death is absolutely perfect for those who want to ease themselves into zombie books - especially light-hearted ones - and definitely if you instill zombie love into the younger generation (i.e. middle-grade / junior high). Karen has just started high school, so I think Stacey Jay hit the nail right on that age range!

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  • Posted October 4, 2010

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    Reviewed by Randstostipher "tallnlankyrn" Nguyen for TeensReadToo

    U-G-L-Y, Karen totally has an alibi... SHE'S UNDEAD, WHAT WHAT? SHE'S UNDEAD! Just a freshman, Karen Vera was on top of the world. Karen was part of the fearless JV squad at Peachtree High and the girl that everyone envied. Unfortunately, her life went splat as she was knocked off her high pyramid and fell into a world that forces her to trade in her pom-poms for some animal brains. Turns out Karen is "Death Challenged." So, once her pretty little head met the pavement, which would lead some to a painful death, Karen was still alive, sort of, and whisked away by her parents, oddly enough like it was normal protocol. A visit by Theresa Samedi, the principal of the institute of the Death Challenged Education of Adolescents and the Deprogrammed, quickly informs Karen of her current zombie status. Before she knows it, Karen is enrolled in DEAD High to protect her from being hunted and rotting away. Karen was quick to discover that her new life at a new school would not be the same. Although she soon found a new BFF, Trish, and was able to interact with the McSteamy of the school, Gavin McDougal, things weren't all that peachy. First, she meets her roommate, Clarice, who wants nothing to do with a roomie, especially one who's a cheerleader. Then she discovers that swimming and running are the only sports offered, since zombie bodies are way too delicate for any type of contact sports. This ultimately means that cheerleading is out of the question! To make matters worse, a death, yes, a real death, occurred at the school. The friendly Kendra had her brains harvested, which means that DEAD High isn't so safe after all. Going from ordinary zombie to zombie sleuth, Karen takes it upon herself to figure out who the killer is, while also trying to survive this new lifestyle and maybe even snag herself some arm candy along the way. With various snippets and quotes taken from different sources starting off each chapter, MY SO-CALLED DEATH is a delectable read that allows you to indulge in a world of zombies that author Stacey Jay seems to have perfected. Hilariously funny, MY SO-CALLED DEATH will make readers want to become undead themselves so that they can join forces with Karen and kick some butt. Fans of Stacey Jay's previous novels will not be disappointed with this one!

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  • Posted September 27, 2010

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    Fun and a little silly

    Karen tragically died from a major fall from the top of the cheer leading pyramid and even more tragically discovered that she is a genetic zombie and now has to live out the rest of her days slurping down animal brains and fearing maggot infestations. She's even transferred to DEAD high, where supposedly she'll learn how to cope with her new, long lasting, but secret, un-life. But high school, even undead high schools, are cruel and to make bad things worse a full day into Karen's new life a body of a student is found, with her brain harvested by an unknown bad guy that just happens to be lurking around the school. Now perky, driven Karen is taking it upon herself to ferret out the killer before something really, really bad happens.
    My So-Called Death weaves back and forth over the line between strong characterization and too much. As amusing as Karen's ultra modern and perky inner monologue is, it, and the lack of strong characters outside of the lead, her BFF and her boyfriend, is bound to annoy some readers who never saw the spirit behind similar tales, like the movies Clueless and Legally Blonde. However it's a perky-fun-gruesome mystery, horror-lite in terms of gore, violence and general darkness. But it's not without creepy, and almost-serious scenes, sort of like the dread one would feel at seeing a bedazzled pirate flag on an approaching ship. As for its value to collections, there's definitely an audience for Jay's kind of creepy-gross-not-quite-dark humor, at the very least adults could enjoy it for all the in jokes about iconic 80s and 90s culture.
    Contains: fried brain bites and giant maggots

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  • Posted March 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fast-Paced, Witty Horror Alternative

    Plot Sketch: Karen Vera is a cheerleader. She rocks at the top of the pyramid, and everyone wants to be her. Well, at least they did until she fell from the top of said pyramid and cracked her head open and her brains fell out. She died. They had a funeral, but Karen was still around. She's a zombie. Not the kind of zombie that got themselves dead and then got reanimated via black magic, those are the lower class Deprogrammed. Nope, she's Death Challenged, which is pretty much the bourgeoisie of zombiedom. Now she's attending a brand new school just for zombies, away from her parents and toddler triplet siblings, and trying to learn the ways of zombie life. She's eating brains, making friends, and learning how to care for her undead skin. She's clashing with her goth-ish roommate, Clarice, and crushing on the OMG steamy lunch-line guy, Gavin. Everything is very "new girl in school," until, someone turns up with their brain missing. Zombies without brains are dead. Karen, with the help of some friends, sets out on a course to find out who the brain snatcher is and solve the mystery before it's too late for the brainless deprogrammed girl to be reanimated, again.

    Verdict: This fast-paced high school zombie story is delightful. The plot is twisty and doesn't dawdle. It's engaging and intriguing. The writing is clever and concise, but also addresses important themes such as self-esteem, trust, and interaction with authority figures. There is very minimal strong language, I think it's one instance, and it's addressed as strong language in the book. The characters are appropriately developed for a novel of this length, and Jay does a good job of developing them through their thoughts and actions as the plot moves along rather than spending time describing the character and what they might do in any given situation as we often find in young adult literature. Her ability to do this is what allows the story to move so quickly. I mean, don't miss a paragraph because if you do, you'll be lost. No skimming or skipping ahead either. She'll catch you if you do and you'll have to rewind yourself. I think she did a great job with the imagery and world building and she accomplished it in the same manner as she did the character development, as the story progressed. I never once wondered what someone looked like or where the characters were as that information was provided to me at precisely the right moment again and again. Jay's creativity and mastery of her craft are evident in this work, and if you love a book that moves along, or love zombies, or just love to laugh, you'll love this. I also want to note for those of you who do not love zombies that you are reading a review by someone who frequently has zombie nightmares. This will not give you nightmares, promise. It'll make you laugh, squee, and giggle, but it will not haunt you. I hope to read more about Karen Vera. Pick it up and see for yourself!

    The Kirkus review compared this story to Harry Potter in a negative light... the Muggle-born vs. Wizard-born was paralleled to the Deprogrammed vs. Death Challenged in this work. I want to go on record as saying that I see no similarity to Harry Potter in My So-Called Death unless you totally stretch it and say that every book set in a school with a mystery is Harry Potter. If My So-Called Death is derivative of Harry Potter, than Harry Potter is derivative of the American Civil Rights Movement. Lame compa

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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