Title: The Gone Dead
Author: Chanelle Benz
Publisher: Ecco, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback /Advanced Readers Copy
My Rating: 5 Stars
Get Your Own: Amazon
Billie James’s inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who died unexpectedly when Billie was four years old. Though Billie was there when the accident happened, she has no memory of that day—and she hasn’t been back to the South since.
Thirty years later, Billie returns, but her father’s home is unnervingly secluded; her only neighbors are the McGees, the family whose history has been entangled with hers since the days of slavery. As Billie encounters the locals, she hears a strange rumor: that she herself went missing on the day her father died. As the mystery intensifies, she finds out that this forgotten piece of her past could put her in danger.
Inventive, gritty, and openhearted, The Gone Dead is an astonishing debut novel about race, justice, and memory that lays bare the long-concealed wounds of a family and a country.
The Gone Dead on Goodreads
Wow! This book left me feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me. Chanelle Benz’s first novel is gritty, powerful, and impossible to put down – it might be hard for her to top it! But after reading The Gone Dead, Benz has become a new auto-buy author for me and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.
There are so many aspects to this book that it’s hard for me to know exactly what to talk about; it’s a mystery novel, a southern novel, a novel that blows open the discussion about race and (in)justice in our society. And while if focuses on fictionalized events from the 1970s, it reads as a contemporary novel – because little has changed and African Americans are still being targeted for simply existing while black.
From the first chapter it seemed that Benz was influenced by Toni Morrison’s Beloved, as both books center around a house and the ghosts that haunt it. For Billie, the ghost is not her murdered father, but the violence and oppression that has effectively silenced the African American community of the Mississippi Delta since the time of slavery. Throughout the book, Billie struggles to overcome the silence that shrouds her father’s death, even from her closest family members, to finally give him the justice he deserved.
Benz’s writing style has a very distinct rhythm to it that took me a while to warm up to. At first it felt too jumpy, that it didn’t flow well. But I quickly got used to and in the end I feel like it complimented the story well. Billie is a volatile character – she’s lost both parents to two traumatic forms of death so she’s not in a good place mentally and I think Benz’s writing captured that perfectly.
If you like tense mysteries, novels that take place in the American South, or stories that dig into the complexities of race in America, give The Gone Dead a try!
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