DEATH SPIRAL by Janie Chodosh is a superbly crafted, gritty YA mystery that gives us a new kind of investigator in Faith Flores. Faith is exceptionally compelling. She's smart, troubled, and determined to find out what happened to her mother. One of my favorite aspects of DEATH SPIRAL is the difference between Faith's dialog and her inner voice. Faith's dialog is often short and awkward, but her inner voice brims with emotion and intelligence. This difference perfectly captures an authentic teen voice.
DEATH SPIRAL is the first in a fantastic new YA mystery series by newcomer Janie Chodosh. The mystery is intense, the plot gritty and emotional, the romance sweet and hopeful, and the protagonist intelligent and conflicted. DEATH SPIRAL truly has it all!
Faith Flores can't accept that her mother is dead from an apparent overdose. Her mom had been clean, and there's no way she would ever abandon Faith like this. Faith knows there was something else wrong with her mother before her death. Her mom had been really sick, and she'd refused to go to the doctor. Then there was this man who'd shown up claiming that her mom had a debt to pay. To the cops, her mom is just another dead junkie, and any investigation into the death was over before it even began.
Then one of her mom's junkie friends, Melinda, contacts Faith. Both Melinda and Faith's mom had participated in an experimental clinical trial to treat heroin addiction, and Melinda has the same symptoms her mom did right before she died. When Melinda dies, supposedly from a heroin overdose too, Faith knows there is something more going on. The real question is how can she prove it and will anyone believe her?
Faith also loves science and it's through science that Faith begins to put the pieces of this mystery together! The science in DEATH SPIRAL addresses very modern and current issues in science and medicine like drug addiction treatment, gene-therapy, and pharmaceutical funding. The science isn't dumbed down, but it is approachable. It's wonderful to see a female teen protagonist in this role. There are many adult mystery novels where females fill the scientific leads (Kay Scarpetta, Temperance Brennan, Maura Isles just to name a few), but seeing this in the YA genre is refreshing and very welcome.
The romance that develops between Faith and new boy Jesse adds just enough conflict and spice to keep Faith from falling into a single-minded obsession with her mother's death. Jesse is seriously a cutie, and he's no slacker either. This subplot is nicely balanced, never feeling like it's trying to take over the story or Faith's attention, but still breaking the tension in the sweetest possible ways to help Faith refocus on her goals and see a world that isn't death and drug addiction.