The set-up of the Beautiful Dead book series is unique--the Powers That Be give carefully selected departed spirits a chance to come back and find the justice that was denied to them because of their deaths. Unfortunately it’s almost a Catch-22; find the justice you want--but do it without straying too far from the Base, being seen or interacting with anyone who might know you. They get lots of cool powers, but loads of restrictions.
In comes Darina, who at first struck me as a selfish teen girl who needed to get over the guy she dated for only two months. Though Maguire doesn't waste time in explaining that Darina and Phoenix had a connection, the source is suspect since its Darina herself telling us this. Isn't every crush or boyfriend 'the absolute one' to a teenager? When they're reunited its much easier to see the connection that Darina felt, but I still felt uneasy for a little while.
At certain points in Jonas, especially in the beginning as who and what the Beautiful People are is explained to Darina, I had a definite sense of confusion. The sort of confusion you get if you open a book in the middle of it and start reading. The timeline jumped from Darina's present, to Darina's past after Phoenix's death, to Darina's past before Phoenix's death to Darina's past before Phoenix at all. The transitions between the 'present' and 'past'/her memories was rough at best, so I often found myself unable to immerse myself into the world.
There was also the fact that its mentioned, by most of the secondary cast as well as the primary cast, that its unusual for four teens to die all in the same year, all in different ways. All seemingly like accidents, but I gathered the town of Ellerton was a small community since everyone seemed to know everyone else (and their business), so it seemed ominous. This plot thread doesn't go anywhere or gain more than a vague mysterious air however, but kept me intrigued to know more.
As for the secondary cast we're given a mixed lot. Darina's mother Laura and her husband Jim (not Darina's father), who both seem at turns neglectful and too protective; Logan, Darina's best friend who sometimes seems pretty cool and sometimes seems like a real stalker. Zoey, Jonas' girlfriend who survived the accident that took his life, but is bound to a wheelchair and horrifying nightmares. The other Beautiful Dead teenagers-Arizona, Jonas and Summer--and their 'overlord' Hunter. Some of the characters received quite a bit of back-story and development due to their relationship with Darina. She used to hang out with Summer at her house, Zoey was at one time her best friend until a misunderstanding over a boy caused a rift, Jonas used to play guitar with her. Everyone else we got scattered pieces about them, but again usually as it pertained to Darina.
Despite the moments of unease, this book also made me cry, laugh and root for Darina to win the day. Maguire has a handle on what its like to be the survivor in a relationship…the guilt, the anxiety and frustration. The feeling that if you wait long enough, stare hard enough, you'll see them again. I liked the fact that even though Darina and Phoenix could be together again, she still grieved and went through the same process as if he had stayed dead. It didn't magically make her sunshine and sparkles again, or make the world seem easier. I appreciated that Darina, however selfishly she began the undertaking, chose to help the Beautiful Dead find their peace and resolution. Her efforts were clumsy and aggressive, especially to anyone who watches or reads mystery and detective shows, but she was persistent.
At the very end of the book we're given a chapter snippet from the next book in the series, Arizona, which should be interesting as Darina and Arizona--in life and death--can't seem to get along. I enjoyed this book and look forward to the next one. I want to know more about the Beautiful Dead and see how things turn out for Darina in the end.
Darina's year goes from bad to worse when her boyfriend, Phoenix, is killed in a knife fight, making him the fourth student from their high school to die that year. She's certain that she's going crazy when she sees him and the others in an abandoned barn, but when Phoenix kisses her, she's convinced he's come back… to life?
Jonas, Summer, Arizona, and Phoenix have been brought back from limbo by the enigmatic and sometimes frightening Hunter, and are allowed to remain in the world of the living for one year in order to set right a wrong linked to their deaths. In exchange for being allowed to see Phoenix, Darina agrees to help the undead teens find justice, starting with Jonas… whose year is nearly up.
Darina must discover who is behind Jonas's fatal motorcycle accident… without becoming a victim herself… and keep the Beautiful Dead a secret. She would sacrifice anything to help her beloved Phoenix, but setting him free might mean losing him forever.