Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel | Review

Posted August 5, 2015 by Tara in Review /// 1 Comment

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel | ReviewCharlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel
Series: standalone
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on June 2nd 2015
Genres: YA, Thriller
Pages: 272
Format: E-book
Source: ARC from NetGalley

In Paris, family and friends gather to mourn the tragic passing of Charlie Price—young, handsome, charming, a world-traveler—who is presumed dead after an explosion. Authorities find only a bloodied jacket, ID’d as Charlie’s. At the funeral, two teens who are perfect strangers, Lena Whitney and Aubrey Boroughs, make another shocking discovery: they have both been dating Charlie, both think Charlie loved them and them alone, and there is a lot they didn’t know about their boyfriend. Over the next week, a mind-bending trip unfolds: first in London—then in Mumbai, Kerala, and Bangkok, the girls go in search of Charlie. Is he still alive? What did their love for him even mean? The truth is out there, but soon it becomes clear that the girls are harboring secrets of their own. No one knows whom to trust in this thrilling tale of suspense and deception.

I like to read thrillers in the summertime, but YA is pretty limited when it comes to offering good thriller stories. Lois Duncan’s novels aside, it’s not hard to understand why teens and thrillers don’t mix — most teens don’t really live the kinds of lives that lend themselves to being involved in thrilling situations. The thrills of one’s teens are largely those of romance and heartache, driving too fast, getting into college, and navigating independence. Teenagers simply don’t typically have lives that involve international intrigue, murder, well-constructed lies, and alternate identities. I mean, can you really imagine a teenage Robert Langdon or Alex Cross? It’s hard to convince readers that these kinds of lives are possible for the 13-18 year old set.

Charlie, Presumed Dead tries really hard to fill this gap by offering up a book that does all of the above. The mysterious Charlie dies in a plane crash, possibly by suicide, and leaves behind two girlfriends who only learn of the other’s existence by meeting at Charlie’s funeral in Paris. The first is Charlie’s long-time girlfriend, Lena, a 19-year-old trust-fund girl who has grown-up alongside Charlie’s world of international boarding schools and wild partying. Aubrey is the intellectual midwestern girl whose only international experience is a jaunt across the Canadian boarder to Niagara Falls. Both loved the charismatic Charlie, though they quickly realize they have each known very different versions of the mysterious boy. The novel chronicles their journey across Europe and Asia to discover Charlie’s secrets: who is the real Charlie, and is he really dead?

First, I must confess that I’m a bit tired of the worldly-trust-fund-baby-with-unlimited-money-and-absent-parents trope. This alone makes this novel wholly unbelievable. It is incredibly convenient that Lena, at 19, can basically do and go where ever she wants without consequence. Aubrey was the far more realistic character, and even her ability to tag along for the journey at age 17 was a bit far-fetched. In fact, the entire motivation for the girls’ journey was not really convincing to me. The two girls believe that Charlie is not really dead and is full of lies, so they decide to hop around to exotic locations to “find answers?” Like, really? What exactly were they expecting to find? Of course, the story relies on this and makes things even more unbelievable by indicating that Charlie has been purposefully leaving clues to be found.

I think all of these kids need to get a hobby and worry about other things *shrug.*

I have to backtrack here and say I didn’t hate the novel. Isn’t this what happens sometimes when we write reviews, that all the bad stuff pours out? Thrillers are great fun and I loved the mysterious elements of the story. It’s hard to go wrong with a mystery plot, in my book, especially since this one had a very exciting ending that did not disappoint when it came to twists and shock (see more about the ending in the next paragraph). What I really enjoyed most was the development of a female friendship between Lena and Aubrey. I don’t feel like the writing did this particularly well, but the end goal of making these girls depend on each other more than a boy was refreshing. The novel even had a direct reference to the Bechdel Test, giving a nod to the need for girls to talk about something other than a boy for a bit, even in a novel that is completely fixated on a boy.

As for the ending, even though it was twisted and packed a punch, it was probably the most unbelievable part of the whole story. Without giving spoilers, I just want to say that lies, deception, revenge, etc. all rely on a certain amount of planning and I just don’t think teens can really pull such things off without mistakes or failure. In that sense, I should note that this type of novel should definitely be considered fantastic and that it is not trying to be realistic in any way — even though I know the author is relying on readers to imagine themselves being placed in similar situations. It’s crazy, twisted, and pretty far removed from reality, but that’s what makes it fun.


This was a fun read, and fun gets some rating love on my behalf. I’m not going to fault the book too much for being entirely unrealistic, as I guess that’s not what it is trying to be. It’s not the best YA thriller I’ve read, even though the competition for such a title is fairly limited. If you are looking for a better thrill read, I recommend The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman. The writing is better and the motivations are more believable and, hey, the female lead is actually likable.


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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One response to “Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel | Review

  1. Yep. I have not heard of YA thrillers before…and, if, by some chance I had than I can safely say that I did not like it. I mean, it’s exactly as you’ve put it: teenagers don’t usually find themselves in those situations, and it’s really hard to write a book about those who do without seeming too unrealistic or artificial. STILL. This sounds like a very intriguing read and if anything I’d read it for the mystery factor.

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