Dead to You

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Dead to You Book Poster Image
Thought-provoking story of abducted teen who returns.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dead to You's primary educational value lies in its being a good read, even for the reluctant, as well as for making readers consider kids stuck in lifestyles less protected than their own (as in the scene in which Cami tells Ethan how she and her mom make lunches for the homeless shelter and Ethan is overcome, because in his former life he had been so dependent on those lunches). For the detective-minded, those lessons in biology class about heredity and DNA may become suddenly more interesting.

Positive Messages

Ethan and his family have had to overcome some real horrors, and it's still uncertain how it's all going to turn out. Against that background, the strong effort they all (with some exceptions) put into making the reunion work and family love prevail is a very strong statement. Despite many missteps and bad moves, there's a lot of love, good will, and determination to do the right thing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ethan is no angel and does a number of wrong things; he also knows it, sometimes before he does them, and the situation gets out of his control anyway. But if he has difficulty adjusting to the constraints of suburban Minnesota life after his homeless life, he also loves several people in his new life and is determined to do right by them. Those people, in their different ways -- 6-year-old Gracie, neighbor Cami, and his mother -- all love him, which is something he hasn't felt for as long as he can remember, and their various expressions of this introduce entirely new possibilities.


The De Wilde family's life was turned upside down nine years ago by Ethan's abduction, and his return does nothing to change how scarred they all are by the incident. Ethan, for example, reacts to stressful situations with attacks of hysteria, which is socially awkward. On two occasions, he also attacks his brother, Blake, who has provoked Ethan and generally looks for chances to get him in trouble -- which works, of course, and distresses his parents.


It's strongly suggested that Ethan has had sex in his previous life and that love wasn't involved; it's clearly understood that, despite extreme attraction, that's not what he wants with Cami, and there's some discussion of how they don't want to mess things up, as well as her parents being upstairs at the time. Intense kissing is about as heavy as it gets between them, though Ethan is pretty frank in hoping on one or two occasions that she's not looking at his crotch. Part of Ethan's dark past is that his "mother," who eventually abandoned him, worked as a prostitute.


"F--k," s--t," "crap," and assorted sex-related slang (e.g. "boob," "boner") isn't constant, but it is plentiful. Also some hateful name-calling (e.g. "bastard").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dead to You is told from the perspective of a 16-year-old boy who has spent the last few years living on the streets, and his language can get raw. That said, the situation in which he and his family find themselves offers an unusual perspective from which teens can look at their own lives and gain a few insights, particularly when it comes to appreciating things they might take for granted about their day-to-day existence. There's also some kissing/making out, as well as antagonism between brothers.

User Reviews

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Teen, 16 years old Written byBass940ice February 12, 2018

Slow going and repetitive

This book is very slow and boring. The plot develops pretty quickly and then it repeats the same things over and over again. The whole book is basically the mai... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byFatboy123 November 1, 2016


Does anybody know the complete backstory to this because at the end of the book she tells us about someone linking her the article. thank you

What's the story?

Nine years ago, 7-year-old Ethan De Wilde walked into a stranger's car and disappeared. Now, miraculously, he and his family are reunited. But the adjustment is made much harder by the fact that, while he remembers a nomadic existence with his prostitute \"mom,\" the group home she dumped him at, and the homeless life he had after he ran away, he can't remember anything about his past life with his real family. And his brother, who witnessed the abduction, views Ethan with frank hatred.

Is it any good?

Lisa McMann has a well-deserved reputation for engaging young readers with irresistible plot hooks, as well as for creating appealing characters and dramatic situations that keep them interested. (See her great title for younger readers, The Unwanteds).

While the characters here are a little thin and stereotypical at times, they serve the purpose of moving the plot along and keeping the reader wondering what happens next, right up to the reality-altering ending. In the process, seeing normal family life through the eyes of a teen who's never experienced it, kids may get a new perspective on why their own parents do the weird things they do.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether they were surprised by Dead to You's ending? If you weren't surprised, what incidents earlier in the story led you to think things would turn out this way?

  • What happens now? To the De Wildes, to Ethan, to Cami? Some people think there should be a sequel -- do you? 

  • There are many thousands of kids who live homeless on their own or with irresponsible parents. What do you know about their lives and how different they are from yours?

  • Do you know any families in which a family member came back after a long absence? How did it affect the family?

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