From almost the first moment high school senior Jade Kelley sets foot in her new school, there are whispers... whispers that remain unexplained until she digs out the realtor's Disclosure Statement and finds the information that her father and stepmother kept from her before their recent move:
I was living in a murder house.
Even worse, the murderee—Queen Bee Kayla Sharp, who apparently took her philosophy straight from Heathers: But why am I mean? Simple. Because I can be.—not only dated both of the boys who've shown an interest in Jade, BUT IS ALSO HAUNTING HER HOUSE. Not just her house, but more specifically, her beloved five-year-old brother, Colby.
Now Jade's being blackmailed by a dead girl: find out who pushed Kayla to her untimely end, or watch her little brother be possessed... and ultimately destroyed.
Jade is massively slow on the uptake about some things—she figures out that the house is haunted pretty quickly, but miseryguts Donovan's connection to the situation eludes her for so long that she had me typing snotty comments like "Seriously, how is this a surprise to her?" into my Kindle. And later, when she started flinging unfounded accusations around, she merited a "This is why we ask about alibis, dummy".
And yet, I still liked her. For one thing, I gave her points for going straight to her stepmother about the ghost, and then, when that blew up in her face, I liked that she played the avoiding game—it wasn't a particularly heroic move, but it was totally believable. Relatedly, some of the choices she makes—like the brilliant decision to have a kegger in her obviously haunted house—are bone-headed, but still understandable.
For the most part, the characterization is well-done—Donovan is a bit thin—because while the secondary teen characters start out looking like stereotypes (Bitchy Queen Bee, Dumb Egocentric Jock), most turn out to be more three-dimensional than at first glace. It's her relationship with her stepmother that really works, though: at first, Marie seems awful, but by the end, Jade (and the reader) both realize that she's a real person with real feelings, and reasons for acting the way that she does.
In addition to the murder mystery and the ghost story, there's a whole thread about Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Jade is reading it in class, and while there's not a huge focus on it—this isn't a straight-up retelling like New Girl—there are loads of parallels, and they pop up in complicated, inventive ways. No character in The Dead and Buried perfectly represents another one in Rebecca: rather, most of them have traits or backgrounds that mirror multiple facets of different characters. Also, in the second half of the book, Jade starts actively noticing the parallels, which makes for some rather hilarious lines.
The Dead and Buried isn't perfect—it's a bit repetitive, in that Alexa is described as 'quirky' over and over again, and there's line about watermelon tourmaline that appears twice, almost word-for-word*; the tone of the dialogue is occasionally inconsistent; the solution of the mystery will be obvious to anyone familiar with the old Look For The Least Likely Suspect And You'll Find Your Killer routine—but it's still hugely, hugely fun.
*As this was an advanced copy, any quotes are subject to change. So that might change in the final printing.
Book source: Review copy via Netgalley.