Ballad for a Mad Girl

320p. Text Publishing. Jun. 2018. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781925355291.
Gr 9 Up—Grace Foley: a bold girl, a funny girl, but maybe a mad girl. During a dangerous dare against students from a rival school, Grace experiences something that looks from the outside like a hysterical breakdown or an elaborate joke. For Grace, though, it's the beginning of something terrifying and unstoppable: a dive into the cold case of a missing girl and the truth behind her own mother's death. This quiet psychological suspense follows a teen down the rabbit hole of madness. It is unclear at any given moment—even for Grace—how much of what she sees is real or delusion, but the narration makes it easy to understand her choices. The portrayal of mental illness from the inside, particularly the ways it can sweep someone off their feet before they can fight it or ask for help, is powerful but never ostentatious. The balance between a character having a mental illness and a character being led by ghosts is a difficult one, but Wakefield validates Grace's genuine issues without completely losing the otherworldly mystery and appeal of her dreams and delusions. The conclusion of the mystery is less compelling, coming off too clean and unlikely. The result squashes the intriguing uncertainty that drives most of the book.
VERDICT Beautiful language and a fascinating narrator make for an affecting read, though some will find the end unsatisfying. An additional purchase where there are many budding psychological suspense fans.

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