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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

YA Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

Fun fact! I wrote this as homework. Best homework yet! Cross your fingers I get a good grade on that. I'm actually only doing minor editing to make this work for here!

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

Published: June 10th, 2010 by Dial which is an imprint of Penguin
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 259
Part of a series? Nope, standalone
Got via: I think I bought it from Chapters with a giftcard. Either that or Amazon.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound
(Affiliate links.)

Summary (copied from goodreads, but edited to match the inside flap of the dust jacket because I'm strange like that): For months, Cass Meyer has heard her best friend Julia, a wannabe Broadway composer, whispering about a top-secret project. Then Julia is killed in a sudden car accident, and drama friends make it their mission to bring the project – a musical entitled Totally Sweet Nina Death Squad – to fruition.

But Cass isn’t one of the drama people. She can’t take a summer of swallowing her pride and painting sets, and she won’t spend long hours Heather Galloway, the girl who rudely questioned Cass’s sexuality all through middle school and who has somehow landed the starring role.

So Cass decides to follow her original plan for a cross-country road trip with Julia. Even if she has a touring bicycle instead of a driver’s license, and even if Julia’s ashes are coming along in Tupperware. When Cass returns in late August she’s not the same person – and neither, she discovers, is Heather. In fact, it’s hard to tell what will happen to the play when they start falling for each other…

This is a story about friendship. About love. About traveling a thousand miles just to find yourself. And it’s a story about the bloodiest high school musical one quiet suburb has ever seen.

Review: First of all, I kinda cried through about half of this. I’m a little bit of a wuss, but it was a really good book. I do think the beginning was a little hard to get into, and at first, the non-linear story can be hard to follow, but once you get into the swing of it, it works for the story. It’s not the most unique storyline in the world, but I think it is different in that Cass isn’t straight, and her story is very different because of that. Diverse stories like this don’t need to be as unique as stories about straight character, especially, because the representation isn’t there yet. People need stories like this about characters like them, so in that, the plot not being the most unique thing is not a bad thing.

Plot Talk: Like I said, this isn’t the most unique plot ever. I’ve actually read a few in the last few years along these lines, and considering how not on the times I am... that's saying something. The two I really liked were Saving June by Hannah Harrington and Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott. (Bear in mind my linked reviews may be pretty old and not very good - personal growth and all that.) Saving June was actually also about a road trip of grief to scatter ashes in California, although that was a sister, not a best friend. Love You Hate You Miss You, though, also had a dead best friend named Julia. Combine those and add lesbians and you get A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend!

No, I'm kidding, but it is a trend. Ones that makes me cry a lot, actually. Other variants I’ve read include 34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues, which was pretty diverse itself, but I thought was kind of cliché and a little weaker in the writing, maybe Rosebush by Michelle Jaffe which I was not a fan of, and maybe we could include this small press book I read The Green-Eyed Queen of Suicide City by Kevin Mark Fournier, which I had a lot of conflicted feelings about and was kind of weird - you can hit up my review of that for more information.

So again, the dead best friend road trip of grief thing isn’t the most unique thing, but it is unique in its representation, so that’s not a problem for me. I did really appreciate that although Cass is not entirely certain of her sexuality, it’s not really a coming out story. Questioning is fine, you know? Lots of people do it, because sexuality is something that can be constantly changing and shifting.

I also did like that her road trip was on a bike, not in a car or anything. That is pretty different from any others I’ve read. Plus, road trips tend to be a very male literary trope, so whenever you get girls taking them, it’s nice to see.

Characters: Our main character is Cass, who lost her best friend only a few months before, and is still dealing with her grief, and the loss. The story is told through alternating chapters between the past and the present. The past in this case is the road trip Cass attempted to take after Julia’s ashes to California, on her bike. From Illinois. And I don’t know US geography that well, I’ll admit, but even I know that’s far. The trip, however, isn’t really about getting to California. It’s about Cass’ grieving and trying to find out who she is without her best friend, and what her feelings for Julia really were.

The present here is about Julia’s musical, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad, which Julia’s boyfriend and drama friends decided to put on, and was one of the major factors in Cass needing to leave, because she was feeling left out, like Julia’s friends were just that, Julia’s friends, and not Cass’ friends. It also deals with her confusing feelings for Heather, the star of the show, who used to make her life miserable until she went away to Catholic school and is now back, and… confusing. Very confusing.

Heather is an interesting character. She’s gay, but was very much not out in middle school, when she made Cass’ life miserable by spreading rumours about her. She’s trying to… not erase what happened, but try and make up for it. I’m not entirely sure I like the idea that it was her being closeted that made her bully Cass, because I’ve read some criticisms about that, and how it’s a problematic narrative with kind of unfortunate implications. Something about dating your bully just squicks me out a little, too. That kind of seems like a bad base for a relationship, but it works alright, and she doesn’t try to excuse her actions. So I don’t love that part, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. I would, however, have to read other POVs about this before I say much more.

Now, the dead best friend – usually in these books you get a much better view of the dead friend or sister or whatever, with flashback or scenes set in the past, and this one is different in that even the “past” storyline is still post-death, so you don’t get quite the same impact of who this person was. She’s still there, but it’s different, and that’s something that is unique about Love Story.

I do think the story suffered a little in the other secondary characters. They aren’t bad or anything, but they weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. Horner also didn’t have the strongest physical descriptions of the characters, which can be a plus or a minus, but I think didn’t work so well in this one. On the plus side, the cast, especially Julia’s friends, were pretty diverse, but that didn’t have the time to shine that it deserved. At times it was almost blink and you miss it.

PG-13 stuff: Nothing too much to report. Mature subject matter, especially in the grief aspect, but I wouldn’t say this is inappropriate for younger teens. There’s not much for language. Some, but it’s used sparingly. There’s some sex talk, but nothing that happens on screen, and it’s realistic, and very well handled. If I was the person doing the little stickers on books, I’d say maybe 12+.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I didn’t like that they never mentioned the concept of bisexuality. It’s basically danced around that Cass is either gay or straight, and I’m not a fan of that. Cass’ sexuality is never labelled by her, although other people do, but despite all her questioning, that’s never a word used, and I didn’t like that. Bisexual characters – or, god forbid, asexual characters – are like unicorns. Except you see unicorns on TV, and they don’t call them horses that don’t like labels.

Um, other than that, I think I’ve mentioned everything. Narration style is a little confusing at the beginning, secondary characters could have been a little more fleshed out… I think that’s about everything.

Cover comments: I like that it takes the elements of the book like the bike, the motel, the theatre-type sign. I don’t like the girl because she looks very model-y, and really smiley, which is not appropriate for the story. If they had, like, cut the girl and slid the bike over a little under the window, I think it would have been just right. It’s a nice cover, still, though.

Conclusion: Cass’ struggles in finding herself her best friend’s death, of trying to figure out who she is and what she wants, of trying to take part in this ridiculous wonderful musical, just trying to find her place in a world where she’s lost a person she’s cared about very deeply, they’re realistic. None of this stuff is easy, but that’s kind of how life goes. Thing are hard and sometimes they suck and sometimes they’re really awesome.

When I showed my friend my stack of books I was considering, I had a little bit of feeling he’d pick this one, because I knew he loved it, which was actually part of the reason I bought. I mean, I had a gift card and it was on for really cheap so that was a part of it, too, but also I knew he liked it. He really recommended it, and recommended it as something that was unique, and I think in the end, I do think that while the tropes are familiar, the writing is good and the representation especially makes it very unique. I bawled like a baby and like actually couldn’t reread one of the scenes without tearing up a little while I was checking some of the stuff for the review, but in the end, while I did really love this book, and that’s great, it’s not really written for me, and that’s okay, because there’s somebody out there who desperately needs this book. And I’m glad that person has a good book waiting for them to find.

Somewhere between three and a half roses and four for this one. I'll put 3.5 for simplicity's sake, but probably 3.75 if I gave quarter ratings!

I don't think I have any other notes, so...

OH I meant to mention - last year I posted at least once every month. Hoping to keep that up again this year! I'm barely squeezing this one in, but it was the end of semester, so I'm not being too hard on myself about that.

Peace and cookies,