Review: Missing, Presumed Dead – A Gritty Queer Paranormal Mystery that I’m Side-Eyeing

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Title: Missing, Presumed Dead
Author: Emma Berquist
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Genre(s): YA Paranormal, Mystery
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f)
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: ???

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With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club.

Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge.

Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.

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Here’s a fun dilemma:

What rating do you give a book that contains literally everything you love–a complex bisexual female protagonist, a gritty paranormal mystery, exploration of mental health, ghost girls, f/f romance–and executes most of them very well, but then you come across three or four lines that make you go, “I’m sorry, what??” and put a damper on the whole thing?

Asking for a friend. (Hashtag-I-am-that-friend)

Okay, let’s backtrack for a bit. Missing, Presumed Dead is like the queer YA version of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, starring a girl who can tell the how’s and when’s of someone’s death by touching them skin-to-skin. Except I’m not sure ‘YA’ is even the right label because many of the characters either feel older than their teenage years or are actually older; personally, I think it’d sit more comfortably as a New Adult.

As far as paranormal mysteries go, it’s fairly typical of what you’d find in a lot of adult books: a club that doubles as a sanctuary for people with magical abilities (witches, psychics, etc), a sudden surge of missing and/or dead kids, and a ghost girl with no recollection of how she died. Thing is, though, we don’t really find these kinds of stories in YA–especially ones tinted with shades of horror and noir–so this was a much-needed breath of fresh air for me. The mystery is engaging, the pacing is quick, the worldbuilding just vivid enough to hold your interest, and the protagonist is….well. The protagonist is messy and sharp all over and I was such a huge fan in the beginning.

Lexi is, to be blunt, miserable, and understandably so, considering how her abilities don’t allow her to engage in physical affection and intimacy of any kind. Through Lexi’s lens the story becomes a portrait of loneliness and depression, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I adore stories that dive deep into the psychological baggage that comes with having supernatural powers.

Really, the only major issue I had was with the love interest Jane, who just isn’t as interesting or well-developed as Lexi.

And then I ran up against The Problem, which starts with this little passage:

“My Jane has never looked this carefree, this innocent. My Jane is angry and wild and a little cruel. I know which one I prefer.”

and this one:

“I’d rather have her furious and bitter, I’d rather have her sad, anything but this scornful, spiteful ghost sneering at me across the seat.”

It’s perfectly normal to desire a connection with someone who understands first-hand the pain you’re going through. I get it. I’ve been there. And that’s what initially drives Lexi and Jane together. But you can’t build a relationship on a foundation of mutual suffering. “I can fix your pain and you can fix mine” may sound sweet and romantic, but what it often ends up becoming is an echo chamber of hurt coupled with codependency.

And wanting someone to remain miserable and fucked-up, because that’s how you feel most of the time, is selfish and unhealthy. I’m all for YA stories exploring unhealthy relationships or unhealthy mindsets regarding relationships, but I need them to address the fact that yes, this is, in fact, unhealthy and here’s how we can move forward from that, which this book never does, and that sits so wrong with me.

And the crazy thing is that the core this issue can be fixed by just taking out those four lines.

So yeah. I’m conflicted. And frustrated. And I spent more time trying to figure out what rating to give the book than writing the actual review.

Which is why I’m giving it a big fat ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the end.

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

14 thoughts on “Review: Missing, Presumed Dead – A Gritty Queer Paranormal Mystery that I’m Side-Eyeing

  1. dreamingofcats says:

    hmm, those lines sound a bit…messed up, but I’m still excited for this book because mental health + f/f romance + paranormal shenanigans = MY FAVORITE. I’ll just develop wilful amnesia when I come across those lines!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sophie @ Me and Ink says:

    It’s a shame about those lines that showcase a unhealthy relationship without addressing its problems– that can be really damaging and it is a shame as reader for that to come along and ruin the experience if you’ve enjoyed this book. I’m still glad there were bits that you enjoyed in this book– I like that it looks at the effect supernatural powers can have on an individual– I think that is so interesting and something I like to see in books!!
    Great review– I wish those four lines could be taken out of the book as well to make the book better but it still sounds like a interesting story!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thank you, Sophie!!! I was so conflicted on this one, and I sat on it for two months before deciding that I STILL have no idea what rating to give it. And I actually really enjoyed the book, just…not those four lines lol. It’s crazy how so few words can completely change the way you view a story.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. waytoofantasy says:

    Hmm, get what you’re saying about this one. I’ve read books before too, where they felt ruined by just a few random lines. Sometimes things like that stand out really glaringly to you.

    Like

  4. @lynnsbooks says:

    So easy, just with something relatively simple, to completely spoil the love you’re feeling for a book. What a shame.
    I suppose the only thing I can say looking at those lines is that both characters had issues – and maybe one character resented the other moving on – but difficult to say without reading really. And, also, btw, I”m not defending that ‘resentment’ just trying to feel the way forward if that’s what’s driving the sentence. Especially when you look at the first sentence which starts with ‘My Jane’.
    Lynn 😀

    Like

  5. sjhigbee says:

    Ooo… I feel your dilemma! No… I really, really do! I recently read a whodunit with a really good plot and well constructed mystery – until the last twist where it all goes to hell in a handcart. And I am genuinely stumped as to how to mark it…

    As for this one – what was the editor thinking???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Yay, I’m glad I have someone to commiserate with! Though this is a predicament I don’t wish on ANYONE. Which sounds dramatic, but gosh, I sat on the review for two months and went through an existential crisis and I STILL couldn’t decide what rating to give it. So it was just all-around a very dramatic experience. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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