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BOOK REVIEW: Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer


Rosalie Norman is facing the summer of 1959 as if she was being sentenced to boredom. Her best friend is away and she is stuck socializing with the boy next door, a strange young man called “the Gravedigger” by the local children due to his job at the local cemetary. Her carelessness with her drawing pencils causes Rosalie’s mother to fall and fracture her ankle and as a result, the Gravedigger is recruited to help the family out with chores. This forced connection is not one that Rosalie wants, fearing the backlash from fellow students when returning to school in the fall. Johnny Kellock Died Today is centred around Rosalie’s hunt for the titular character, her favourite cousin Johnny, whose disappearance her family is hiding.

Hadley Dyer’s first novel pulls from memory the long, hot summers of childhood. Rosalie is the youngest child in a family of grownups, the afterthought baby whose place is never quite certain. Her mother is a true matriarch, ruling the family with the authority of a field general – while her father, the nurturer and comforter, is called only by his surname.

In this family of shifting tensions and dynamics, Rosalie appears to be at sea. Dyer has written a character that lives so much in her mind, and the comics she draws, that she does not appear at all connected to her family. This is exemplified by the fact that she has no knowledge of her father’s first name, in fact wondering to herself at that poignant moment “How is it even halfway possible I didn’t think about this before?”

As the Gravedigger becomes David, Rosalie learns more about herself and her family’s secrets than she ever thought possible. Her household make-up changes yet again and Rosalie is able to finally become one of the adults rather than the afterthought child.

This is a delightful story told in Rosalie’s distinctive voice, wonderfully evoked by Dyer. This reader’s only complaint is that the sub-plot of Martha, Rosalie’s sister, is not more satisfactorily concluded. The reader is left hanging, wondering what has driven her solitary wanderings and tension.

This engaging novel is sure to become the perfect read for a hot summer day, read on the porch with a glass of lemonade.

See the review as it is appears at Front Street Reviews – Johnny Kellock Died Today. Don’t forget to check out Hadley Dyer’s blog.

posted under young adult fiction
7 Comments to

“BOOK REVIEW: Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer”

  1. On March 10th, 2006 at 10:16 am Lotus Reads Says:

    Sounds interesting – I will be travelling this summer, so I will add this title to my “holiday books” list. Is this a recent release? Will check links in a moment…

  2. On March 10th, 2006 at 10:22 am Lotus Reads Says:

    Just visited the author’s website – I have two young adults at home and they are going to need some holiday reads, too, so this might be the perfect book for all of us! 🙂

    Thanks for the recommendation, Janelle.

  3. On March 10th, 2006 at 10:52 am Chris Says:

    Thanks for the review!

  4. On March 10th, 2006 at 1:14 pm Janelle Martin Says:

    It’s just about to be published or has just been published, not 100% sure.

    Glad you like it!

  5. On November 27th, 2006 at 10:51 pm Anonymous Says:

    I loved this book. I just finished reading not too long ago. About a day or two. It’s an amazing book. I’d actually like a sequel to it. Or hear the story from Johnny’s point of veiw, and what really happened at home. I think it’d be pretty interesting.

  6. On January 9th, 2007 at 10:08 pm Anonymous Says:

    Great book! I finished this book about a week ago. It’s really good. Rosalie is a charming character. Although I don’t quite understand what you mean by the martha thing. Despite all this the book is still quite confusing sometimes. I couldn’t quite grasp the concept at the end. Anyway it’s a thrilling novel.

  7. On February 4th, 2008 at 11:32 pm Anonymous Says:

    i am 11 years old and i with just to be like hadley dyer i loved this book soooo much i find it very interesting

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