Bill Shankly famously said “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” For many people, the idea of sports being so important seems outrageous, but that’s the central premise in Dead Last, a young adult thriller that sees a teenage girl threatened and attacked for excelling in school athletics.
Carla, a social misfit, suddenly finds herself the centre of attention because of her sporting prowess. It’s a case of history repeating itself as her older sister, Sasha, disappeared the previous year after triumphing in a foot race.
The story follows two threads — one explaining exactly what happened to Sasha and the other focusing on Carla in the present day. The dual approach helps add interest to the tale, with both paced well to reach their climax around the same time, but ultimately it’s not enough.
The younger sister’s story line takes the main focus, but we quickly learn there’s a similar pattern. The action kicks off when Carla is mysteriously threatened, with frequent messages warning her not to compete at the upcoming school swimming carnival or cross country race.
Curious, Carla carefully slid the note across the desk and held it under the desk as she unfolded it to read the roughly scribbled note: ‘YOU ARE IN DANGER’
That threat is soon followed through, with Carla the victim of a number of unpleasant and harmful attacks. Without giving too much away, the perpetrator, although kept hidden, is a major suspect early on, obvious I’m sure even for the intended younger audience. Despite being a clear choice, their motives are ludicrous, not to mention incredibly short-sighted.
A weak story line can often be carried by strong writing, but sadly this isn’t the case here. Although the language used in the book is well-suited to a young adult reader, there’s an unfortunate lack of flow to the piece. Far too often sentences are extremely wordy and repetitive, with clumsy phrasing spoiling much of the story.
Caleb watched in exasperation as she sat down and Hamish handed her a water bottle which she sipped from before wiping her face with her towel and turning her attention to watch the current race in progress.
It’s tough to break bad news, especially to someone valiantly chasing their dreams, but unfortunately this book requires significant editing before it should be considered complete and ready for publishing.