Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Fate Totally Worse Than Death (Novel)

A Fate Totally Worse Than Death (Novel) Release date: 1995. Author: Paul Fleischman. Publisher: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 9780763621896.

Plot summary: Danielle and her friends Tiffany and Brooke rule their high school in the ritzy town of Cliffside in southern California. Not only are they beautiful, but they live in the exclusive Hundred Palms Estates. They and the other “Huns” dominate the other non-Hundred Palms Estates residents at Cliffside High, meaning they have exclusive rights to date the handsome and rich Hun boys like Drew and Jonathan. Danielle is determined that Drew will be her’s this year, now that she and her friends have officially (and literally) taken out last year’s competition, the non-Hun Charity Chase. Who knew that chasing someone off a 300 foot cliff and faking a suicide note could be so easy? Nothing will keep the girls from enjoying their senior year, not even the dreary forced community service they must endure at the local convalescent hospital. Nothing, except for the new beautiful Norwegian exchange student, Helga. Helga is tall, blonde, intelligent and has all the Hun guys following her every move. Drew is entranced by her knowledge of famous authors, threatening Danielle’s claim to his heart. The girls decide that Helga must go, and begin to plot her demise. Just as their plans get into full-swing, however, something strange begins to happen. Danielle finds herself getting increasingly out of breath and that her hair is beginning to turn gray. Tiffany’s joints begin to swell painfully and she has trouble holding her bladder. Brooke’s hearing begins to fail and swarms of liver spots dot her hand. Are the most beautiful girls at Cliffside High being cursed to a fate worse than death: aging? Convinced that Helga is the ghost of Charity Chase sent to enact revenge in the form of entering old lady-hood, the girls must figure out a plan to send the ghost to her grave once and for all.

Critical evaluation: Funny and cruel, A Fate Totally Worse Than Death is a horror satire that teens are sure to love. The set-up for the story fits every cliché. Three beautiful “mean girls” living perfect lives in their ritzy southern California town. The girls are truly mean, stomping on anyone who gets in their way. The scenes when they’re performing “community service” at the local convalescent hospital are truly funny in a sad and cruel way. Danielle is supposed to be a companion to stroke-patient Mrs. Witt, but instead makes fun of her elderly body, steals all of her chocolates, and makes her watch music videos. She and her friends also discuss how they murdered their “competition”, Charity Chase, right in front of the old woman. These scenes in the nursing home foreshadow what is going to happen to the girls later in the novel. The “fate totally worse than death” is when Danielle and her friends begin to age quiet rapidly. They lose teeth, their hair falls out and turns gray, one develops arthritis, another becomes incontinent, and their perfect bodies begin to sag. The reader will find themselves cheering as each ailment is wracked upon the cruel girls. The side character of Helga, the Norwegian exchange student, also adds to the plot. She is the antithesis of the main characters: beautiful but smart and kind. She and Danielle’s love interest, Drew, discuss Thoreau and she recommends Ibsen to Tiffany’s ex-boyfriend. When the girls become convinced that she’s the ghost of Charity Chase, they use horror novels to try to determine a way to defeat their foe. Overall, the novel is short but packed with humor and entertainment that teens will enjoy.

Reader's annotation: Danielle, Brooke and Tiffany rule their high school in the ritzy town of Cliffside in southern California. But will their reign come to an end when a beautiful Norwegian exchange student comes to town, and they begin to experience some strange physical changes?
About the author: Son of children’s author Sid Fleischman, Paul Fleischman was born in 1952 in Santa Monica, California. Fleischman grew up listening to his father read aloud from the stories he’d written. After attending college for two years at UC Berkeley, Fleischman travelled cross country on his bicycle and ended up living in a 200-year-old house in New Hampshire. It was there that he developed an interest in writing historical fiction that later influenced his novels. After finishing college at the University of New Mexico, Fleischman began his literary career. He began writing plays for the small stage, and published his first novel The Birthday Tree in 1979. His novel, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (1988) won the Newbery Medal in 1989, the same award his father won in 1987 for The Whipping Boy. Since then, Fleischman was written many successful novels for children and young adults including The Borning Room (1991), Bull Run (1993), A Fate Totally Worse Than Death (1995), Dateline: Troy (1996), Whirligig (1998), Seek (2001), Zap (2005), Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella (2007), and The Dunderheads (2009). Fleischman lives in Aromas, California with his wife. (
: Fiction/Horror/Satire

Curriculum ties:

Booktalking ideas:
Social aspects of high school
Judging people based on where they live or how much money they have
“Mean girls” vs. nice girls

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 7 and up

Challenge issues:
Bad attitudes
Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for grade 7 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child or discuss book with child.
Recommend parent discuss attitudes of main characters with child.
Recommend parent discuss aging with child.

Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, New York Times Book Review.
Winner of International Reading Association Children’s Choices Award.
Award winning author.

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