A gripping and addictive plot coupled with near-perfect characterisation: this 5-star story has everything I’ve come to expect from a Sue Wallman novel.
Kate Jordan-Ferreira has reached the fifth form and nabbed the coveted position of House Prefect in Pankhurst House, the most sought-after of the three boarding houses for girls at Mount Norton School. Everything should be perfect, especially given her plans (with a bit of help and a lot of money from her godfather) to throw the best House party in Mount Norton history. From the outset, however, things aren’t right. It starts with the entrance of a new housemistress, Ms Calding, and is closely followed by a series of other unexpected and unpleasant incidents culminating in a death at Kate’s party. As events spiral out of control, Kate is forced to face up to the secrets of her past but, even if she does, it might turn out to be too late.
This book is being marketed with the following tag line: You don’t become the most powerful girl at school by playing nice, and Kate Jordan-Ferreira is ruthless. Given this, I did not expect to like our first-person narrator (especially given it had taken me a while to warm to the viewpoint character, Mae, in Sue’s book See How They Lie). I was surprised, therefore, to find I liked Kate from the outset. While there is certainly a hard edge to Kate’s character, there is also a vulnerability that helps us empathise and understand her. This is strengthened as the book progresses and we slowly build a picture of quite how shallow and uncaring Kate’s parents are.
While Mount Norton is obviously an exclusive school and Kate is clearly from a financially privileged family, I was pleased to find a few characters from less wealthy backgrounds. Without a doubt my favourite character in the novel is Elsie Gran. Although she’s not actually present on that many pages, this free-spirited pensioner successfully manages to haunt the book through her influence over Kate. Indeed, I spent a lot of the book worried whether Gran would make it to the end of the book alive (when Sue Wallman is the author you have to be prepared that your favourite characters may not survive).
I enjoyed following the way Kate changes her perceptions of others as the story progresses. This happens in a large number of cases, including Hugo and Monro, but is most evident in the case of fellow fifth-former Zeta. It’s really only a tiny part of the plot but the conclusion for Zeta is so fitting that it really made me smile (sorry to say more would give too much away).
I’m not, however, surprised by this. A gripping and addictive plot with a twist and clever wrap up is what I’ve come to expect from a Sue Wallman novel. And in this, Dead Popular does not disappoint. The book opens with the scene of a dead body sprawled on the rocks by the sea and we spend a large part of the book waiting to discover just whose body it is. From then on, we’re trying to piece together all the clues before biting our nails in the dramatic climax. Impressive stuff!
If you haven’t already read them, I can’t recommend Sue’s other books highly enough. You really must get hold of a copy of Lying About Last Summer, Your Turn to Die, or my personal favourite, See How They Lie.
Publication Date: August 2019
Author: Sue Wallman