Book review: Missing, Presumed Dead, by Emma Berquist

Berquist, Emma. Missing, Presumed Dead. Greenwillow, 2019. 373 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9780062642813. (HC.)

Russian American Lexi inherited her family’s curse—or gift—of knowing the time and manner of death of those whom she touches.  She deals with ghosts–the dead who have reason to stay among the living. For Lexi, ghosts are solid, warm—though ocassionally murderous—individuals. Knowledge of death does not mean that she can change the futures she sees; when Lexi tried to save a favorite teacher, death claimed her mother long before her allotted time.

When Lexi’s chronic depression and understandable fear of touching others overwhelms her, she checks herself into the local psychiatric ward for a 72-hour vacation from life.  Her only close friend is her elderly grandfather Dede, who shares her gift and is confined to a nursing home.  When her need for human physical contact becomes overwhelming, Lexi has sex with the son of the mob boss, though touching him causes her nausea and pain. And, as a high school dropout in Los Angeles, the only job she can get is with Elysium, a Russian mob-run establishment, ostensibly as a bartender, but actually a cover employing her paranormal talents.  Uncle Urie, the head of the Elysium mob family, takes a personal interest in the paranormal members of his organization and taps Lexi  to find answers when a string of disappearnces takes one of his people.

For Lexi, things come to a boil when she touches one of the bar customers while investigating the disappearances and she has to deal with the the foreknowledge of the girl’s horrible, impending—nearly immediate—death. Jane, an arrogant high school student while alive, now a ghost seeking information and vengeance against the man who slashed her throat, follows Lexi home and the two form a bond that ripens into caring, perhaps even love.

Verdict: This is the first young adult paranormal book I’ve read that actually focuses on the chronic stresses that come from bullying and having a “gift” that hurts the user.  Coping with clinical depression, PTSD, and the human need for physical contact are themes running throughout the book.  Lexi shows a great deal of growth over the course of the book—it makes sense that her new therapist is one of the resident ghosts haunting the mental health clinic where she goes for 72-hour respites.   The twined paranormal mystery and lesbian (female/female) romance makes this an appealing story that I did not expect from the rather generic title.  Though the characters are diverse—gay ghost, elderly grandfather, members of an ethnic minority, hereditary witches—most seem to be white. I happened across the book at the local library and then bought a copy for myself.  Highly recommended for high school and public library collections.

Reviewed by Jane Cothron.

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