She Smells the Dead begins with a one-page prologue, and I gotta say, having finished the book, it's probably the best one-page litmus test I've ever read. All you have to do to know whether or not this book is for you is read the first four paragraphs. It's that simple.
"I can smell the dead. I know, you hear of people with superhuman paranormal powers and you think, how cool is that but there is nothing cool about smelling the dead. I mean it could be worse I suppose. The dead don’t smell like rotting corpses, usually. It’s often more of a symbolic smell. "Smell Impressions" as my friend Calvin likes to call them. Ugh. I know, again with the uncoolness. You have no idea.
Imagine biting into your favorite veggie burger loaded up with ketchup and suddenly smelling rotten eggs. Heck, my biggest fear is finally kissing Garrett Hamlin, the guy I’ve been drooling over since 8th grade, and smelling something awful. Like skunk butt or sweaty gym socks. I. Would. Die.
So yeah. My name is Vanessa Stennings but I go by Yuki. When you’re a kid the name Nessie gets you teased and Vee for victory takes on a whole new meaning when you reach high school and all the boys can think about is getting lucky. So I picked Yuki. It means snow or a snow covered village which, considering all the snow we get here in Maine seems fitting. I didn’t pick it for that reason though. I decided on Yuki because the smell of freshly falling snow is a clean, beautiful smell and if I'm anything, it's ruled by smells.
Of course I hadn't realized that a few jocks would start calling me Yucky, but heck, they’re jocks. It's not like I acknowledge their existence anyway. We live in different worlds. They are obsessed with muscles and fart jokes - and I smell the dead."
This book was not for me.
Yuki and I had problems from the beginning. I could not take her seriously, and the voice demonstrated in the prologue is why. It's somehow pretentious and yet vapid, immature at the very least. Yuki's supposed to be seventeen and in her senior year, but between the vocabulary and the attitude, I'd have pegged her for somewhere around a fourteen/fifteen-year-old freshman, honestly.
She's got the perky pseudo-goth thing going on, with a side of pseudo-weeaboo, which probably would have been more interesting - or at least, differentiating - if not for the "pseudo" part. She's not actually a character an anime nerd or "goth" can identify with, unless the mere fact that she calls herself Yuki and dresses in black tulle is enough for you to relate with. Her subculture-related attributes are all really superficial. They have no impact on the story, they don't lend her any kind added depth or realism, and seem to exist solely to excuse the book's indulgence in the re-naming and Costume Porn, at least in this installment.
To be clear, I'm not saying Yuki was unrealistic. That's the thing about immature, phase-ish teenagers - they're everywhere. It's just that I would really, really prefer not to read about them. Hence why Yuki didn't really work for me.
Still, I can get over voices. It wouldn't have tanked the book for me if the story had worked, but, well, it didn't. In any respect.
1) The premise lacked a solid foundation
She Smells the Dead lacks any kind of introduction to Yuki's life. We're just sort of dropped in at the start of a new case, and come to find that she's apparently had her ghost-smelling abilities for a while - long enough, at least, to come to the conclusion that they are ghost-smelling abilities, develop a pretty good idea of how they function, figure out what to do with them, and share all this with her friends. It feels more like we're coming in on the second book in the series, as opposed to the first...
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