Author: Emily Horner
Genre: Contemporary YA
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 while Cass is still reeling from her death, Julia’s boyfriend and her other drama friends make it their mission to bring to fruition the nearly-completed secret project: a musical about an orphaned ninja princess entitled Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.
Seriously you guys...you HAVE to read this book. This is one of the best Young Adult books I have read this year, perhaps of all time. There are wow-worthy books, and then there are those books that are in a class of their own because they are so outstandingly epic. Dead Best Friend doesn't sound like one of them from the Goodreads description, but believe me, this was one of those books. I actually had to read this for my YA Lit class, but it has by far surpassed any of my expectations and I definitely recommend it...actually more than any of the "fun" contemporary YA that I have read this year. There are so many wow moments that I can barely think of just one to show off how amazing this book was. The plot was different and interesting. The characters were dynamic and full of life. Even the setting wasn't the same old-same old boring small town setting.
Let's dive right in there and deal with the elephant sitting on this book. The main character, and three of the main side characters are gay. There will be a few people who won't want to read this book just because of that simple fact, but those people are in the wrong. Though the majority won't identify with a homosexual lifestyle, everyone can identify with themes like love, identity, loss, growing-up, breaking-up, and pure unadulterated teenage angst. It explores the issues and feelings surrounding coming out of the closet in one of the most dangerous places in the world: high school. To be honest, as an entirely heterosexual female, I never really got to understand the lesbian perspective. This book is a heart-squeezing eye-opener for me, while at the same time it's a funny and cute romance. Overall this story is about friendship and growing up. Cass has to make a bike trek of a few thousand miles just so she can find herself and learn to depend on her friends. Its about finding a way to cope with the past and to get over it before grief can consume you. And it's also about a fantastically bloody play about a Ninja princess.
The characters were fantastic. Cass was so heart-felt and full of teenage angst without being annoying. There is real substance behind her teenage dramatics...I mean, come on...her best friend and crush is killed in a car accident two weeks before senior prom. I think that qualifies to let a person have the mopeys. Though her reaction is a bit extreme ( She decides to bike halfway across the country), it is something you can honestly believe that someone would do to keep their grief at bay. People do extreme things when struck with such tragedy. I like that each character reacts to Julia's death differently, either by throwing themselves into the play, being sullen and forlorn, or biking from Chicago to California. Even the side characters were real, with fun personalities and mannerisms that really breathed life into what could have just been flat, boring, two dimensional cutouts. They were like the kids from Glee, mixed with hippies, mixed with the drama kids at my old high school...only if they were even more ridiculously flamboyant and awesome. They react like real kids their ages would have acted given the circumstances.The pure emotion behind every action in this book was amazing. Nothing is contrived or fake...I feel like this could be something I see just going down the block and peeking into the windows of the high school.
I loved the split plot featuring "Then" for the time just after Julia's death and "Now" for when Cass and the rest were working on putting on Julia's play. I think it really brought a lot of stuff into detail that you could have missed when reading a chronological plot, but you get a better chance to understand them when presented in just the right sequence. Each segment of both the "then" and "now" pieces were so interesting. A lot of them ended in cliffhangers which made me mad when they were switching between the two times...I just wanted to keep reading what I was reading! Still, my hatred of cliffhangers aside, each part was well written and fit amazingly well within the context of the story. I actually think that the placement was quite brilliant. It's very easy to get confused and disorientated when dealing with multiple times going on at once, but I never felt lost or confused. There was a lot of good work going on with the story...loved it! The only thing that I felt was neglected with the sub-plot revolving around Maggie...She definitely got shafted in the story...basically she gets attached to Cass who just uses her basically to launch her true lesbianic abilities, then leaves her.
There were so many deep moments in this book. I could just sit here and list profound quote after spectacular quote and fill up ten pages of awesomeness. It was like Emily Horner has this inside access to every teenager's heart and mind and she hacks it so that she can get amazing quotes with tons of quirky humor. Sometimes they aren't even that profound...they just explain the inside workings of a high scholar's mind beyond any questions. Here's a good one right from the beginning... "Have you ever had one of those breakups that is so boiling-in-oil painful that you can't even stand to go to the same school anymore, lest you catch a glimpse of their face in the hallway and start crying all over your math test?". It's simple, straightforward, and to the point...but tell me if there isn't a single one of you who hasn't felt this way about an ex, especially in high school.