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High Plains Book Awards finalist: 'The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.' by Colleen Nelson

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Editor's note: The 16th annual High Plains Book Awards recognizes regional literary works which examine and reflect life on the High Plains, including the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Young Adult Award honors books written for readers between 12 and 18 years of age.

Frankie is a 17-year-old girl who is having recurring dreams about a tall man in a top hat. The dreams evolve into the narrative of a young girl who had entertained in a carnival sideshow over one hundred years ago. After each dream, Frankie records these visions in her sketchbook, which includes ancient Egyptian symbols, a mummy, and the promise of immortality. In Frankie’s waking life, she meets the same characters who inhabit her dreams. How is this possible and what does it mean for Frankie? This is how Colleen Nelson begins her novel “The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.”

“The dreams started the night of the break-in.” This first sentence sets the bar high for suspense. As the tale continues, there are no lulls in the action and each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, making this book almost impossible to put down. The addition of ancient Egyptian mythology and historical information about carnival freak shows contributes eerie content for the story.

The author’s realistic portrayal of what school is like for kids who are different is the book’s greatest strength. At first glance, Frankie is a brash teen who likes punk rock, goth styles, and comic books, but the truth is that she is fragile and desperately lonely. She hides a rare skin condition under thick make-up and endures being called a freak, or worse, by the girls in her school. Mid-novel, Frankie helps a classmate out of a tough situation and later imagines what it would be like to have her as a friend. After letting herself daydream, she brings herself back to reality. “Tears welled in my eyes. Imagining having a friend only made me feel lonelier because it would probably never happen. I wiped the tears away and closed my eyes” (p. 129). Many teens can relate with feeling alone and anxious. Readers will root for Frankie to find a friend.

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“The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.,” a novel that mixes reality with mystery and fantasy, will be a popular choice for middle and high school readers and is a finalist in the Young Adult division of the High Plains Book Awards.

Andrea Doles is the librarian at Ben Steele Middle School and enjoys reading historical and realistic novels.

You are Invited – October 8!

Book Sale and Author Panels – 11 AM – 5 PM – Billings Public Library

Award Presentations – MSU Billings Petro Theatre 7:30 PM – no charge


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