Death Spiral is first rate in nearly every respect and is highly recommended.Death Spiral is an excellent introduction to this series. Late in the book someone tells Faith, "You have some determination — I wouldn't want to be the person standing in your way. Most people would've given up, but not you." And Faith is the core of this novel. She's independent and has resolve, but she also has all the insecurities that most 16-year-olds have. The balance between the two traits is exceptionally well handled. Also quite impressive is her supporting cast, most particularly Jesse Schneider, a new boy in school but one who bonds almost immediately with Faith … even though she is reluctant at first to trust anyone other than herself with her mission. The relationship that develops between the two is really rather touching.
16-year-old Faith Flores simply can't accept that her mother died of a self-administered overdose of heroin. Sure, she was a junkie for most of her life, but Auggie Flores had seemed to turn her life around. And suddenly she was dead. Too suddenly. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Faith sets out to prove her mother was a victim, but of what or whom she's not quite sure, in Death Spiral, the first mystery in this young adult series by Janie Chodosh.
Faith learns that her mother had been a participant in a trial study for a new drug that supposedly was able to get addicts off heroin. Auggie had registered as a person without dependents, as she was so determined to do what was right for her daughter and the program discouraged parents from enrolling. But the more Faith learns about the trial study, the more suspicious she is. For starters, the symptoms her mother experienced just prior to her death were not observed by any of the other participants save one, and that one is now dead, too. When she confronts the medical examiner, who signed off on her mother's cause of death, he's involved in a fatal traffic accident just hours later. Faith is certain her mother wasn't killed by a heroin overdose but by something else, but she doesn't know who she can trust to help her get the answers she needs in order to move on with her life.
A few minor quibbles. First, the language is a bit coarse at times. It's probably true that teenagers speak this way and the dialog here no doubt mirrors reality, but it seems unnecessary and doesn't add any value to the story. Second, Faith and to a lesser extent Jesse have a fairly casual attitude about class attendance. But maybe that's the way high schools are today, allowing students flexibility (with some limits) on which and how many classes they can miss without a reason or an excuse. Finally, the series is subtitled a "science mystery", which is accurate but possibly not the way that readers may expect. Faith and Jesse do not use science to solve the crime; rather science, and more specifically biological science, is an integral element of the storyline. It isn't clear how science will continue to be a part of the series moving forward, but it definitely has the potential to put an unusual spin on the plots going forward.