Study Guide

A Little Less Girl Mortality

By Tess Oliver

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Chapter 1
Jake West

The vase of dead flowers and the pathetically filthy toy polar bear lay crumpled and dirty on the roadside memorial. Right after the suicide, the road had been lined with flowers, balloons, and hand-drawn posters declaring how much everyone had loved Amy. It was all such bull. The same people had never given her the time of day when she was alive.

The scent of lime drifted up from the unattended memorial. Someone had visited the spot recently and had left a bowl of something green. There was a little sign next to the bowl that read "in case there's no lime Jell-O in heaven. Love D." I stared at the bizarre tribute for a second then headed home on foot. (1.3-4)

Jake is really annoyed with the hypocrisy surrounding Amy's death. People who never cared about her in life are paying tribute to her in death. Maybe if some of those people had reached out to her while she was still alive, she never would have driven over that cliff. Just a thought.

Chapter 4

Amy had said that she hoped there was lime Jell-O in heaven because she couldn't go an eternity without it. We'd laughed so hard green gelatin sprayed out of our mouths. Then she'd told me that she'd left her diary to me in her unwritten will and that I'd have to go through her underwear to find it. Of course, she had never expected to die. I know I'd never expected her to die.

My fingers trembled as I opened the cover. There would be so much of Amy in this book it would be impossible to get through it without a few major cries. But I had to read it. I needed to find out when it all went horribly wrong. I needed to know if her heart had been so broken by this guy, Jake West, that she'd driven herself off a cliff. None of it seemed liked Amy. She lived for romance, and she'd been hopelessly in love with the guy, but suicide seemed completely out of her character. Yet, according to Grammie, that was the conclusion the police had come to. We'd only heard sketchy details of the accident, no brake marks, no tire marks. The report stated that the car had been deliberately turned off the road. (4.23-24)

Suicide just doesn't make sense for Amy and Dani knows this right away. Amy loved life and she laughed all the time. Does that sound like a person who would kill herself over a boy?

Amy had already been in the ground a week before the beer bellied owner of the cheesy motel we'd been staying in knocked on the door to deliver the message as if he were telling us our laundry was done. "Some chick named Amy is dead. Suicide or something like that," he'd said and returned to his office. Mom and Grammie had had a horrible fight about it, and we ended up missing Grammie's funeral as well. I'd had no money to go on my own. After that, I'd told Mom that when she died I wasn't going to her funeral either and that would mean only two people would be attending, and she would be one of them. The grave digger would be the other. We didn't speak for three days. (4.7)

This is a pretty big blow. Dani loses her best friend and beloved grandmother within a few months—ouch—and because her mom is so messed up, Dani can't even make it to the funeral to say a proper good-bye. No wonder she has trouble dealing with this loss.

Chapter 5
Kevin a.k.a. Blister

Blister sighed. "Every guy at Raynesville has wet dreams about the chick, and you avoid her like she's poison. Hey, you don't think she'll off herself like Amy, do you?"

I stopped and he took several more steps before realizing I wasn't by his side any longer. He glanced back at me. His face melted when he saw my expression. "Sorry, Bro, I didn't mean—"

"Too late, you said it." I stormed past him. "And if you think self-centered Katrina would kill herself because of me, then you don't know her at all." (5.27-29)

Even Jake's best friend thinks he was behind Amy's death. That's rough. This is also a pretty interesting comment: Jake doesn't seem to think that Amy is self-centered even though he believes she took her own life. Is he right? Is suicide a selfless act?

Chapter 8

Side note: something is wrong with Ryan Wilford. I mean he has always looked small and frail like the guy only gets scraps of food at home, and he has those blue veins that are visible through the pale skin on his temples. In elementary school, those veins used to gross me out so much I didn't like to sit near him in the cafeteria. But today he looked smaller than usual. Almost like he was shrinking in on himself. He was sitting alone like always in the lunch quad with his shoulders hunched up around his ears, but when he went to put a chip in his mouth, I saw that his hand was shaking. Nobody ever seems to notice the guy, but I do. He's like that stray, little dog you pass on the side of the road, and you can't get it out of your mind. I'd never seen his hands shake. (8.28)

Our other glimpse at death in this novel is Ryan Wilford, who appears to be dying of cancer. People have the same view about him as they do of Amy, treating him like he's invisible instead of trying to reach out to him while he's alive. Poor guy.

Chapter 11
Jake West

"But religion helps us to face our own mortality." I spoke to her like she was the only person in the room.

She stared at me through a curtain of razor cut bangs. "I agree. Religion is a wonderful pacifier for people who are afraid of death. Every religion—"

"We're all afraid of death," I interrupted.

Our eyes locked again. Then she pulled her gaze from mine and faced the front of the room. I fell back against my seat as if I had been released from a giant magnet.

Dermott glanced at me then his eyes fell on her. "Well, do you agree with him, Dani?"

"Yes, we're all afraid of death, but we all have different levels of acceptance." She paused. "Some people even search out death." She stopped and I could see her close her eyes for a second like she blinked back tears. (11.20-25)

This is a pretty intense conversation for a high school classroom. Is Jake right? Does religion help us deal with death? Do we feel better about shuffling off this mortal coil if we think there's something waiting? Are we really all afraid of death? Gah—deep questions.

Chapter 19

I dangled my feet over the cliff. It was one hell of a plummet. Then I thought about Amy. She drove her car off a cliff. You had to be brave to off yourself that way. The suicide had made Amy somewhat of a tortured hero for awhile. At least until the novelty of it wore off. The school planted a tree for her right next to Ryan Wilford's tree. He had died the same year of cancer. But his death hadn't been nearly as sensational as Amy's, so the poor kid died just like he'd lived, in quiet oblivion. (19.11)

Amy's and Ryan's deaths sort of complement each other—Ryan went quietly while Amy went out with a bang. Amy gets more attention due to the way she died, and Jake also clearly has some admiration for her. He thinks Amy was no coward and that it took guts to drive off that cliff.

"Amy didn't kill herself because of you."

Her statement stunned me at first. I stared out at the frothy water. "My head's not that bloated. I never thought she did. The town decided it was because of me. I know she liked me but…" (19.59-60)

Jake confirms what he probably knew all along: Amy wasn't the kind of person who would go to pieces over him. He might blame himself, but deep down he knows that Amy could have committed suicide for any reason.

Chapter 24
Danielle "Dani" Spencer

"Death." I finished for him. "It's alright if you say the word Mr. Dermott, I know she died."

He looked slightly embarrassed. "It's just that it's always hard to talk about a student's death."

"Did she say anything to you in any of your meetings where she was thinking about suicide?"

His face blanched as he stared at me across his desk. "If she had, I assure you I would have mentioned it to her grandmother." He sounded defensive.

"I'm not accusing you of any negligence, Mr. Dermott. I'm just trying to find out what happened to my cousin. And if she did kill herself, I want to know why. She was always a happy person."

His shoulders relaxed some. "The police declared it a suicide, Dani. I know that can be hard to accept. She had a lot to deal with emotionally. Her mother died, she had an aging grandmother as her only family, and she was very concerned about her weight." (24.27-32)

Dani just isn't buying the fact that Amy went looking for death. Of course, Mr. Dermott is interested in pushing this theory for his own reasons. He's clearly given it a lot of practice and come up with a laundry list of reasons why Amy might have driven over that cliff. Heck, maybe he's even rationalized that night by telling himself that her little detour was intentional.

Chapter 32
Danielle "Dani" Spencer

"Amy left me her diary. She was afraid to die young like her mother. She was afraid to die. She talks about it in her diary. That's why I know she didn't commit suicide." My voice wavered now. He shot me a look of sympathy as if I had no idea what I was talking about, and it angered me enough to jump up from the chair […] "My cousin was too damn smart to go dramatic and suicidal about a guy, any guy, even Jake West." (32.25)

Dani knows the truth about Amy, she just can't prove it. Amy just wasn't the kind of person to get so wrapped up in what other people thought of her that she'd decide to end it all. Amy didn't go looking for death—she was actually afraid of it.

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