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A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

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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 ni 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. Cass isn’t one of the drama people. She doesn’t feel at home with Julia’s drama friends, and she doesn’t see a place for her in the play. Things only get worse when she finds out that Heather Galloway, the girl who made her miserable all through middle school, has been cast as the ninja princess. Cass can’t take a summer of swallowing her pride and painting sets, so she 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. Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad is a story about friendship. About love. About traveling a thousand miles just to find yourself. About making peace with the past, and making sense of it. And it’s a story about the bloodiest high school musical one quiet suburb has ever seen.


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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 ni 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. Cass isn’t one of the drama people. She doesn’t feel at home with Julia’s drama friends, and she doesn’t see a place for her in the play. Things only get worse when she finds out that Heather Galloway, the girl who made her miserable all through middle school, has been cast as the ninja princess. Cass can’t take a summer of swallowing her pride and painting sets, so she 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. Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad is a story about friendship. About love. About traveling a thousand miles just to find yourself. About making peace with the past, and making sense of it. And it’s a story about the bloodiest high school musical one quiet suburb has ever seen.

30 review for A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

  1. 4 out of 5

    prag ♻

    hi this is my favorite book in this entire universe this is a PSA for everyone to read it proper!! full!! review to come (one day) but for now just know that no other book affected me so much i have literally never related to a protagonist like this things it includes but is not limited to: • lesbian romance • bike trip across the country • sixteen year olds putting on a musical and causing general mishaps • unrequited love • orange nailpolish • a girlfriend in oklahoma • music outside the window at midn hi this is my favorite book in this entire universe this is a PSA for everyone to read it proper!! full!! review to come (one day) but for now just know that no other book affected me so much i have literally never related to a protagonist like this things it includes but is not limited to: • lesbian romance • bike trip across the country • sixteen year olds putting on a musical and causing general mishaps • unrequited love • orange nailpolish • a girlfriend in oklahoma • music outside the window at midnight

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dahlia

    I have to admit, I'm always a little wary of LGBTQ YA published prior to 2014 or so, because most of what I've read from that time is qualitatively not that great, and generally the books that are see the authors continuing to write to this day. But as far as I know, this is Horner's only book, and not gonna lie, my expectations were not super high. But I think I would've liked this book a lot even if they'd been higher. Now I'm mad at myself for not reading this earlier, because it's something I have to admit, I'm always a little wary of LGBTQ YA published prior to 2014 or so, because most of what I've read from that time is qualitatively not that great, and generally the books that are see the authors continuing to write to this day. But as far as I know, this is Horner's only book, and not gonna lie, my expectations were not super high. But I think I would've liked this book a lot even if they'd been higher. Now I'm mad at myself for not reading this earlier, because it's something I could've been recommending for years while f/f YA fleshed itself out - a book with road trip and theater elements, plus a best friend/romance confusion element, and an enemies-to-lovers romance, all in an alternating timeline story? There was a lot for me to enjoy here, and I hope Horner ends up writing more someday.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eilonwy

    3-1/2 stars, rounded up Then: Cass spent her summer riding her bike from Chicago to California, ostensibly with the "purpose" of taking her best friend Julia's ashes to the Pacific, but really to have something to focus on other than her loss and loneliness. Now: Cass is stuck in a basement with her middle school arch-enemy, Heather, while they work on sets and costumes for "Super Sweet Ninja Death Squad," the musical Julia had barely finished just before her death. Has Heather changed? Has Cass? 3-1/2 stars, rounded up Then: Cass spent her summer riding her bike from Chicago to California, ostensibly with the "purpose" of taking her best friend Julia's ashes to the Pacific, but really to have something to focus on other than her loss and loneliness. Now: Cass is stuck in a basement with her middle school arch-enemy, Heather, while they work on sets and costumes for "Super Sweet Ninja Death Squad," the musical Julia had barely finished just before her death. Has Heather changed? Has Cass? This was a subtle, melancholy, poignant story about loss and love, just as the title promises. The theater plot was fun and added some much-needed occasional humor to the sadder bits. I enjoyed this quite a bit, without ending up with a lot to say about it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Raina

    It took me a minute to warm up to this book. It seemed a little TOO custom-written for me. And I like to defy expectations. But I read the last half in less than 24 hours. The story flips between Then and Now. Then is a selection of memories of her friend, as well as of her cross-country bicycle trip to honor her friend. Now focuses on the production of Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad, the musical written by her friend, and her romance with another member of the team putting it on. There are too m It took me a minute to warm up to this book. It seemed a little TOO custom-written for me. And I like to defy expectations. But I read the last half in less than 24 hours. The story flips between Then and Now. Then is a selection of memories of her friend, as well as of her cross-country bicycle trip to honor her friend. Now focuses on the production of Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad, the musical written by her friend, and her romance with another member of the team putting it on. There are too many great quotes in this book. About figuring out who you are, about questioning your sexuality (SO many extra stars for not portraying sexuality as a binary), about mourning the loss of your closest friend. I really appreciate the way Horner acknowledges the importance of friendship. It's definitely a story which resonated with me, all the way down to the Quaker appearances. It's kinda hard to talk about, actually.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Don't you just hate it when a book you've been pining over for the last year or so ends up disappointing it you? Well, I do, and sadly enough that is what happened with A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend and me. I've been looking forward to this book since it was titled Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad, a title I loved and still do, and after hearing the most amazing things about this, I was even more excited. So when the time came to read this, I couldn't wait to gobble it right up. The b Don't you just hate it when a book you've been pining over for the last year or so ends up disappointing it you? Well, I do, and sadly enough that is what happened with A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend and me. I've been looking forward to this book since it was titled Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad, a title I loved and still do, and after hearing the most amazing things about this, I was even more excited. So when the time came to read this, I couldn't wait to gobble it right up. The beginning of this was great. I loved the premise, which had to do with Cass and her friends putting on their dead best friend's supper secret play. I loved the fact that it was altering between section titled "Now" and "Then" because you got to see what occurred before the accident and of Cass's bike trip, as well as current time. And, lastly, I loved the friendship between Cass and Julia, which was sweet and relatable, as well as the budding romance between Heather and Cass. The middle, however, left a lot to be desired. Since missing was the funniness and uniqueness I loved, instead it was switched with boringness that I detested. Suddenly, I was not at all awed by Cass, nor could I find her particular likable. She was just there and, I have to say, I found her to be a bit annoying. Plus there wasn't nearly as much info about her and Julia's friendship; the plot dragged in a pace that made this novel unbearable at times; and character development was lacking. Though I did like some parts of this, such as Heather, my favorite character, and the messages that came with Cass's journey to find out who she was without Julia. Then something particularly AMAZING happened. What was that per say? Well, the last four chapters. All of sudden my faith in this was restored. I was smiling giddily, laughing, and going "Aw!" at was happening, as well as beginning to understand Cass in a way I couldn't before. If based on those and the beginning alone, I would have loved A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, strangely enough. Though I can't, so overall it was okay, not great, not amazing, not spectacular, just okay. I can see promise in Horner, even if it wasn't displayed as well as I would've liked in this novel. So even with the disappointment this brought, I still will be reading more by her, possibly. Grade: Very, very, very low C. A D+ most likely.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elise (TheBookishActress)

    I'm going to read this... someday... I promise

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sesana

    When Cass's best friend, Julia, dies, Cass decides to take her ashes across the country on bicycle, so they can be scattered at the ocean. She's gone off like this, by herself, because Julia's boyfriend has cast her middle school nemesis, Heather, as the star in the musical Julia wrote before her death. When she gets back from her trip, Cass starts helping produce the musical, and gets to know Heather much better. I just loved this book. Cass and her friends are all engaging characters to me, esp When Cass's best friend, Julia, dies, Cass decides to take her ashes across the country on bicycle, so they can be scattered at the ocean. She's gone off like this, by herself, because Julia's boyfriend has cast her middle school nemesis, Heather, as the star in the musical Julia wrote before her death. When she gets back from her trip, Cass starts helping produce the musical, and gets to know Heather much better. I just loved this book. Cass and her friends are all engaging characters to me, especially Julia. How can you not love a girl who writes a musical called Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad? How can you not love a group of friends who put their summer on hold to put that play on for her? The romance between Cass and Heather was built very subtly and naturally, and I enjoyed seeing things develop between them. The one major word of complaint that I have is that the book alternates between chapters set during Cass's bike trip (Then) and chapters set during the production of the musical (Now). It can be a little jarring, and I don't think it was necessary. I think we would have seen a much more satisfactory character arc, for Cass, that way. I suspect that it's because an awful lot of Then is spent with a solitary Cass thinking to herself, and that might have weighed down the first half of the book. But I really loved this book anyways. I also liked that Cass and her family are practicing Quakers, a religion I haven't seen much at all in YA. I didn't think it was particularly preachy, either, which is also nice.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Let me tell you what I liked about this book: 1. I suppose technically it's a coming out story but I didn't feel a whole lot of OMG MY LIFE IS OVER B/C I'M GAY meme 2. The main character has multiple complicated imperfect romantic plotlines going on. It's not just "I saw her and, reader, suddenly my whole world shifted and that's when I knew I was gay. I came out to my family and friends and hoo boy was that dramatic but nothing could stop the trueness of our love! There's no one else for me but h Let me tell you what I liked about this book: 1. I suppose technically it's a coming out story but I didn't feel a whole lot of OMG MY LIFE IS OVER B/C I'M GAY meme 2. The main character has multiple complicated imperfect romantic plotlines going on. It's not just "I saw her and, reader, suddenly my whole world shifted and that's when I knew I was gay. I came out to my family and friends and hoo boy was that dramatic but nothing could stop the trueness of our love! There's no one else for me but her!" No. 3. Cass's relationship with Julia, her best friend, is deep and complicated. They're not just acquaintances who do things together in the way that a lot of friendships are portrayed. They actually have a friendship that has problems and develops and changes without being over. Also all kinds of interesting questions are raised about the blurring of lines between friendship and attraction and commitment. 4. ROAD TRIP! 5. "Evil" person seeks redemption! People are not solely evil or solely good! Bad people do good! Good people do bad! Everyone is complicated! Hooray non-essentialism! 6. It came "highly recommended" by my penguin rep. Things I didn't like: 1. Um, Cass goes to a school without any people of color apparently? 2. She bikes from Chicago to Oklahoma and doesn't have a single scary encounter with some skeezey person? I'm sorry I just find that really hard to believe. Especially when she makes friend with a random guy in a band and then gets picked up by a girl in a pickup truck (who just happens to be gay, in the wilds of Missouri). 3. Too many flat characters. Too many drama friends. I couldn't tell them apart. 4. Occasionally the back-and-forthness of the narrative was a little confusing. 5. Sometimes there was just a little bit too much of my life in this book. But overall, really awesome!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anita Pogorzelska

    4.5 stars. It was cute. And made you feel things. It was a quick read, but thoughtful, honest. Also sad, but you could really connect to the pain. A lot of books struggle with that, and this one did it well. All in all, it was a down-to-earth, feel-good kind of book. I would recommend. There are ninjas.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    It might not have been perfect, but I pretty much adored this book. Funny, touching, and relatable - this is one of the best YA debuts I've seen in a while. I'll mention the couple of (minor) problems I had: the letter at the beginning was cheesy and almost had me putting the book down; I'm not a huge fan of books that skip back and forth in time because it is extraordinarily difficult to do well enough that it actually benefits the story; the cross-country road trip was unrealistically free of It might not have been perfect, but I pretty much adored this book. Funny, touching, and relatable - this is one of the best YA debuts I've seen in a while. I'll mention the couple of (minor) problems I had: the letter at the beginning was cheesy and almost had me putting the book down; I'm not a huge fan of books that skip back and forth in time because it is extraordinarily difficult to do well enough that it actually benefits the story; the cross-country road trip was unrealistically free of skeevy/scary experiences (I can't even travel across town without some of those, let alone hundreds of miles!); and the ending was maybe a little too tied up with a bow perfect. On the other hand, though, Cass was a fantastic character: complex, introverted, still figuring herself out but basically relatable and likable. Musicals may be one of the new big things in YA lit, but Ninja Death Squad was fun and meaningful and I totally want to see it. Friendship and love and sexuality are all presented as a big tangled up mess that can be confusing and scary and wonderful all at the same time, which is pretty much true for everyone in high school. I liked how Heather didn't fit into the mean girl role neatly, because she was actually a person, not just attributes, and there were reasons for her actions even when the reasons and the actions weren't commendable. In other words, I liked how this book gives teens credit for being able to see and appreciate nuances in feelings and behaviors and people. Life isn't straightforward, even if YA books frequently write it that way. And, of course, I always appreciate it when authours write great queer books for kids - especially for all those queer girls in high school. Right now, the gayboy YA outnumbers the girls by around 3 to 1, and I'm constantly having to give "but" recommendations. You know, "This is a great book, but it's a little dated." Or "This is a sweet story, but the writings not all that great." Or "I really like this book, but none of the characters actually identify as queer." Or "This book is about a queer girl, but she goes crazy/has a shitty life/tries to kill herself/is abused/etc." So I am so excited to see books coming out (ha!) that I can recommend without any caveats. Thanks, Emily!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    This is one of those books that I wish had come out a decade ago, because I could really have used it back then. I saw a lot myself and the people I knew in high school in this book, and I suspect it will resonate with a number of teenagers I know today. Don't get scared off by the beginning, which is sort of weird and irritating - the rest of the book is great. Cass's best friend Julia dies in a car accident, and A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend follows Cass and her friends as they atte This is one of those books that I wish had come out a decade ago, because I could really have used it back then. I saw a lot myself and the people I knew in high school in this book, and I suspect it will resonate with a number of teenagers I know today. Don't get scared off by the beginning, which is sort of weird and irritating - the rest of the book is great. Cass's best friend Julia dies in a car accident, and A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend follows Cass and her friends as they attempt to pick up the pieces, move on, and memorialize Julia as best they can. Cass memorializes her dead best friend in two ways: she takes the trip out west that she and Julia had planned, and she participates in the production of the musical Julia had been working on before her death. The road trip takes place during summer break, and the play is staged early on in the school year. The novel skips back and forth between the two stories, which normally bothers me, but here, the stories just work better this way. The great thing is that both stories are equally engaging. I love road trip novels, and I really love Route 66, so I enjoyed the chapters about Cass's struggle to bike from Chicago to Los Angeles. Watching Cass return to the "real world" and attempt to navigate her changed relationships with Julia's friends - and enemies - is equally compelling. Horner's portrayal of this gang of grieving teenagers rings true for me - I know plenty of kids, especially theatre kids, who watch a lot of obscure horror movies and would do anything for their friends. I never got any real sense of what Julia was like - for all that the novel happens because of her death, we don't know very much about her life. She liked theatre, was really into her boyfriend, was great at writing music...that's about all we know. And that's okay. This book is so not about Julia, and I like that. Instead, we get a smart, sympathetic portrait of smart, sympathetic Cass as she works through her grief by making mistakes, getting in trouble, and maybe even falling in love.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Louise Tripp

    Now that I have finished the book, I am not sure my review can do it justice. There's a lot that I wanted to say and I wish I had written my thoughts down when I was reading it, but I didn't. I'll do my best, though. First, I want to say that this is not a perfectly polished, perfectly written book (I will not add "for a teen novel" or "for a YA novel" because there are a lot of extremely sophisticated, beautifully written books for teenagers out there and I, myself, hope to complete and publish Now that I have finished the book, I am not sure my review can do it justice. There's a lot that I wanted to say and I wish I had written my thoughts down when I was reading it, but I didn't. I'll do my best, though. First, I want to say that this is not a perfectly polished, perfectly written book (I will not add "for a teen novel" or "for a YA novel" because there are a lot of extremely sophisticated, beautifully written books for teenagers out there and I, myself, hope to complete and publish one someday; in other words, I'm neither a lit snob nor a pretentious douche-bag that can't deign to read a book for young people without being self-deprecating about it). There were pieces of dialogue that went on without attributing them to anyone (just a "she said" would have sufficed for me) and I got confused by them at times. But aside from small details such as this, I found myself completely in love with this book, which is the author's first (i.e., it's allowed a few flaws). There are flashes of true, heartfelt insight in these pages. I couldn't help but be enchanted by the descriptions of the open road (the lead character, Cass takes her dead best friend's ashes on an ambitious road trip from Illinois to California...by way of bicycle!) and by the characters (Cass's friends reminded me of people I knew: quirky and funny, nerdy and ninja-loving theater kids). The book is also a bit of a coming-out story - Cass discovers that she likes girls, that maybe she was even a little in love with her friend, Julia (whose death in a traffic accident is what compels Cass to take to the road) and that, despite their history as bully and bullied, she may be falling for a girl named Heather, who is cast in the musical that Julia wrote before she died. It's a lovely book and I applaud Emily Horner on a wonderful debut novel.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jill Guccini

    Really want to give this one a 4.5. I felt genuinely moved at the end of this, which made me realize I hadn't felt genuinely moved by a book in quite a while. And by moved, I mean it Made Me Feel A Lot Of Things. And that's an important thing. So. I was obviously more drawn to the trying-to-bike-across-the-country-with-your-best-friend-who-you-were-secretly-in-love-with's-ashes storyline, because who wouldn't be drawn to that storyline. But the Ninja Deathsquad storyline was helpful in having som Really want to give this one a 4.5. I felt genuinely moved at the end of this, which made me realize I hadn't felt genuinely moved by a book in quite a while. And by moved, I mean it Made Me Feel A Lot Of Things. And that's an important thing. So. I was obviously more drawn to the trying-to-bike-across-the-country-with-your-best-friend-who-you-were-secretly-in-love-with's-ashes storyline, because who wouldn't be drawn to that storyline. But the Ninja Deathsquad storyline was helpful in having some more light-hearted moments, which are always necessary but not always as prevalent as they should be in YA. Because I mean, teens are brilliant and creative and funny, which Horner is able to capture. If anything I felt like maybe some of the emotions so wonderfully described by Horner were actually too complex and mature for these kids. I mean, this is one mature protagonist. But I feel like that's always a tricky thing to navigate with evaluating YA, because who the hell are we to say what's too complex and mature for teens when teens are all so different? Anyway. Really great first novel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    The story of how a well-loved member of a crowd's death affects the crowd is not new, and I picked this up with a bit of trepidation. It was unwarranted. Horner's first novel is ably plotted and well-done. There were more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, and I liked the narrator very well. She was achingly believable and so adolescently stupid she could have stepped right off the page. I loved the long-distance bicycle trip. I loved the growth in the characters throughout the story. I loved th The story of how a well-loved member of a crowd's death affects the crowd is not new, and I picked this up with a bit of trepidation. It was unwarranted. Horner's first novel is ably plotted and well-done. There were more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, and I liked the narrator very well. She was achingly believable and so adolescently stupid she could have stepped right off the page. I loved the long-distance bicycle trip. I loved the growth in the characters throughout the story. I loved the way the friends close ranks when it becomes important. There's a lot here to love. For all that I loved it, I recognize that it's a first novel. The dialogue was more than a little wooden in spots. There were some minor bobbles in believability and consistency, and the flashback flash forward format is difficult to follow at first, but overall I think it a very worthwhile and solid story.

  15. 5 out of 5

    M

    I really, really wanted to like this book, but it reminded me of how strongly I dislike theater people.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lili

    This book has an enormous amount of potential, which is the reason i didn’t give it 2 stars. I so wish the author had focused on the stronger parts of the story she was telling - the grieving, the journey, the questioning friendships, the sexual identity - instead of throwing another story into the mix that was unnecessary and distracting.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Wadelton

    This was better than I expected. I sped through it and really enjoyed it. I think Heather was such an interesting love interest, and I seriously loved the enemies to lovers trope- can’t remember if I’ve ever come across that in WLW fiction.

  18. 5 out of 5

    allie

    we love dead best friends and forgiving, sappy high school lesbians

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brontë Christopher

    This book is an ABSOLUTE TREASURE. The first two pages already had me deep in my emotions (I don't think a book has ever done that before), and after that beginning, the book never faltered. The prose flows wonderfully, never drawing attention to itself but delivering humor, sadness, love, angst, anger, confusion, and surprisingly complex and extremely thoughtful reflections on the worth of our relationships (romantic and otherwise), all while seamlessly immersing you in the voice of the teenage This book is an ABSOLUTE TREASURE. The first two pages already had me deep in my emotions (I don't think a book has ever done that before), and after that beginning, the book never faltered. The prose flows wonderfully, never drawing attention to itself but delivering humor, sadness, love, angst, anger, confusion, and surprisingly complex and extremely thoughtful reflections on the worth of our relationships (romantic and otherwise), all while seamlessly immersing you in the voice of the teenage narrator. Love Story is unabashed, unashamed, totally genuine, and riveting from start to finish. It's love letter to so much more than just one person.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    3.5 stars. I hate when reading one book takes me a ridiculous amount of time-- in this case, over two weeks. It's not that A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend was bad or anything, it just didn't captivate me enough for me to sit down and read six chapters in a row. This is about Cass, a high school girl from a Quaker family who is trying to recover from the death of her best friend, Julia. Making matters even worse is that she's not sure if she was in love with Julia. In short, the book trac 3.5 stars. I hate when reading one book takes me a ridiculous amount of time-- in this case, over two weeks. It's not that A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend was bad or anything, it just didn't captivate me enough for me to sit down and read six chapters in a row. This is about Cass, a high school girl from a Quaker family who is trying to recover from the death of her best friend, Julia. Making matters even worse is that she's not sure if she was in love with Julia. In short, the book traces Cass's journey, literally and metaphorically, to understand herself. She decides to take Julia's ashes and bicycle alone during the summer to California to scatter them by the ocean. This plot alternates chapter by chapter with a different plot, set in the present school year, in which all of Julia's theater friends are working hard to bring Julia's play, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad to life. At the same time, she's dealing with the task of mending two broken relationships. Heather, a bully from middle school, is back in town and has been cast as the lead in Julia's play, and while Heather wants forgiveness for how she used to treat Cass, Cass isn't sure she can do that. Cass also has to deal with the tension of working with Ollie, Julia's boyfriend, and all the pain and resentment that situation would entail. Cass was always taught to love her enemies, but in the real world that's easier said than done. The thing here is that I want to give A Love Story more than three (and a half) stars, but it just wasn't that enjoyable for me to read. The writing was impressive and evocative, and Cass was a powerfully-written main character. I identified with her a lot, but at the same time she remained distinctive, not just a pair of fictional shoes for me to slip into. Loved Cass. And the emotional impact of the last few chapters was worth reading through some of the less exciting parts preceding it. But it just wasn't... enough. There were too many problems for the book to be successful for me-- e.g. sometimes the dialogue didn't flow or make sense, the side characters weren't developed at all (other than Ollie, love him), and, worst of all, the forgiveness and developing friendship between Cass and Heather was forced and unbelievable. That was one of the main focuses of the story and I just couldn't take it seriously. (view spoiler)[I never got around to enjoying Heather as a character at all, let alone as a friend and definitely not as a love interest. She didn't capture my attention at all. (hide spoiler)] Those weaknesses aside, however, I think the strengths of this novel are significant enough that I will keep an eye out for anything else from this author, Emily Horner. I think that in this book only a few of the characters had a strong presence, but if she can come up with a whole set of people that pop off the page, she'll be able to write a book that really deserves to be remembered. My favorite part came toward the very end, so I'll put it under spoilers. It's not actually too spoilery, though, so unless you plan on reading this and don't want to know anything about how secondary story lines wrap up, I think you should go ahead and click. (view spoiler)[ Ollie was looking at me strangely-- I couldn't tell if I was supposed to feel anxious or guilty or what. And then he grabbed me and pulled me into an awkward hug. We both loved her. And for the first time that felt like a bridge between us instead of a wall, like the biggest and most important thing we had ever shared. "We're okay, you and me," he said directly. "You know that, right?" "I shouldn't have--" "Me neither." Okay dying of cuteness. I love reconciliation. GAH. (hide spoiler)]

  21. 4 out of 5

    DD

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I would rate this novel a 2.5/5 stars if I could. This is actually a pretty good read, though the story of Cass may take some to get used to (varying from person to person), as it is told in two parts: the first, labeled "Then", is the time leading up to when her best friend dies, and her solo journey to California; the second part, labeled "Now", is the present time, where Cass has to deal with Heather and the looming play. The two parts don't have a large gap of time between them, but are just I would rate this novel a 2.5/5 stars if I could. This is actually a pretty good read, though the story of Cass may take some to get used to (varying from person to person), as it is told in two parts: the first, labeled "Then", is the time leading up to when her best friend dies, and her solo journey to California; the second part, labeled "Now", is the present time, where Cass has to deal with Heather and the looming play. The two parts don't have a large gap of time between them, but are just set apart by a couple of months (keep in mind, Cass's road trip takes place during summer break -July to early August-, as well as her work on the play -Mid-August to September-). For some, this alternating switch of time-periods between each chapter might be irritating. But personally, I found it to be alright, as it just takes of matter of time to adapt to this style of storytelling (or the ability to have a open-mindedness about reading in said way). Readers get to follow Cass and her process of slowly growing up and learning to cope with the issues in her life. Her pride, bitterness, self-pity, and her tendency to not take responsibility and blame everyone for her problems is evident throughout the novel, but as the two parts of the story are told and begin to coherently come together, we can also see Cass changing as well. Cass's journey through the summer break (mostly when she was rescued from almost not being able to finish her quest) has also made Cass finally face what she'd been trying so hard not to think about; what her relationship with Julia really meant to her. Her successful journey also helped Cass face Heather and eventually to give her a second chance. Though I wasn't surprised during events such as when Cass's bike was stolen (which, I thought was very likely to happen), I WAS unexpectedly taken aback when Cass did manage to reach California (with her friends in tow -or, rather, Cass in tow-). I wasn't expecting her journey to actually be fulfilled; I thought that when her bike was stolen, it would be the end of her escapade, and she would have to swallow her pride and return home not being able to finish what she started. It was nice for all her friends (not just Ollie) to cram into his car and be a part of Cass's road trip to California (though, obviously it would make sense for ALL of them to take part in this for Julia). I've been mostly talking about only one part of the novel; Cass's road trip. But there is the other part of the novel, as equally as important to the plot and growth of Cass's character (which I won't go into detail about)! :)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    I was very skeptical about this book before I read it. This year I have read 3 books that included some sort of performance art to mark the climax of the story; and while they all served their purpose, the chosen event seems exhausted. I felt a little uneasy knowing that the original musical, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad was the main event of this book. But, it turned out not to be, but actually so so much more. I was only going to give A Love Story 4 stars because sometimes the dialogue felt I was very skeptical about this book before I read it. This year I have read 3 books that included some sort of performance art to mark the climax of the story; and while they all served their purpose, the chosen event seems exhausted. I felt a little uneasy knowing that the original musical, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad was the main event of this book. But, it turned out not to be, but actually so so much more. I was only going to give A Love Story 4 stars because sometimes the dialogue felt clunky and too mature for 17 year olds; man, they are complicated! I was also unsure about the alternating "Now" and "Then" chapters. Cass, the narrator, is preparing for the early school year performance of Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad during the "Now'; and recounting a doomed bicycle journey to honor her best friend, Julia, during the "Then". But, it is clear they are complementary parts creating a bittersweet whole. So, 5 stars it is. As for the actual story: Cass may or may not have been in love with Julia since their friendship began in grade school. Julia died in a car accident right before their senior year of high school, but she left behind the script for the original muiscal, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad and her friends decide that they must put it on. Ollie, Julia's boyfriend, resents Cass and whatever feelings she may have had for Julia. Heather was Cass's mortal enemy in middle school and shows up after transferring to Catholic school and back right before senior year because she was cast as Ninja Princess Himiko/needed to get away from the nuns and her ex. Put these characters together in a high school and prepare for something volatile. And, sprinkle a thoughtfully crafted romance to soothe the tempest within (or not!). Aside from designing artillery for the play, Cass is a bicycle enthusiast, a math geek, Quaker and a lesbian with pretty supportive parents who are big on "hippie Jesus" - turn the other cheek, love your enemies. But, this is by far NOT the Gaytopia of David Levithan's books. There is plenty of homophobia to make it feel authentic (without being didactic) and remind us that yes, people are still judgmental and kids are still scared to come out even with plenty of gay role models, community support, films, etc. That's what makes this book so important. But, bravery and courage prevail, always. I look forward to more novels by Emily Horner. This is a remarkable debut from a totally sweet YA librarian! *P.S. for all those fans of Looking for Alaska, this book may be for you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jess - The Tales Compendium

    I really enjoyed A Love Story. It's about one girls quest to confront her grief and discover herself. It is a funny, touching, coming-of-age debut and while I wouldn't go so far as to say Cass is highly likeable, I do think teenagers will be able to relate to at least one of her struggles (including her alternative parents). The main themes are friendship, grief, relationships, self esteem, sexuality, growing up and... musicals! Although Cass is a smart girl, she hasn't quite figured out who she I really enjoyed A Love Story. It's about one girls quest to confront her grief and discover herself. It is a funny, touching, coming-of-age debut and while I wouldn't go so far as to say Cass is highly likeable, I do think teenagers will be able to relate to at least one of her struggles (including her alternative parents). The main themes are friendship, grief, relationships, self esteem, sexuality, growing up and... musicals! Although Cass is a smart girl, she hasn't quite figured out who she is or her place in the world and after the death of Julia, while she tells herself the road trip is to honour Julia, it's more about being independent, proving herself to those back home and herself and it also allows her to get away from some of Julia's friends who are striking out at her and each other amidst their grief. It also gives her the chance to get away, think clearly and discover who she is as a person and also what Julia really meant to her. The story is a little slow and confusing at the beginning, mostly due to the fact that it goes back and forth in time, from 'Then' when Julia was alive and the subsequent road trip and 'Now' after Cass has returned and is working on the musical penned by Julia, 'Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad'. I'm not a big fan of books that go back and forth in time but I quickly got over my initial confusion as I think Emily Horner has done a really good job of keeping the story together and all events relevant. There are two little paragraphs that have really stuck with me since finishing this book. Neither of them have anything to do with each other (they both just happen to occur at 3am). The first is this, for no reason other than it made me laugh. 'Okay. Obviously you have not lived.' 'I was once kissed in a motel hallway by a bass player, at three in the morning,' 'Impressive, but unconvincing.' The second is part of an entire chapter which I love but if I write down the whole chapter, aside from being ridiculously long, it will spoil some of the story. I will say that this chapter, to me, represents the true meaning of friendship. 'Thank you,' I said. Like that would cover it. Like it would come anywhere close to covering it. But what else was there to say at three in the morning? If I was to compare it with other YA titles, I would say if you mix Will Grayson, Will Grayson, The Sky is Everywhere and Pink by Lili Wilkinson, you have A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Towner

    I feel dirty reading young adult fiction, but this book was listed in the Editor's Choice of the NYT book review, so I can use that to rationalize my intellectual downfall. The book is about an unpopular girl who is trying to honour her dead best friend's memory by putting on a play that she (the dead friend) wrote. That part of the novel I'm fine with. The topic of teenagers dealing with grief while still trying to be like teenagers is handled very well in the novel. Unfortunately, none of the I feel dirty reading young adult fiction, but this book was listed in the Editor's Choice of the NYT book review, so I can use that to rationalize my intellectual downfall. The book is about an unpopular girl who is trying to honour her dead best friend's memory by putting on a play that she (the dead friend) wrote. That part of the novel I'm fine with. The topic of teenagers dealing with grief while still trying to be like teenagers is handled very well in the novel. Unfortunately, none of the characters are at all likable. The characters in the novel all seem to be pseudo-ironic faux-hipsters, who love ninjas, breaking into song, and complaining about how American horror movies are vastly inferior to the Korean originals. The only way the characters in the novel could have been more like cliched wannabe hipsters would have been if the novel were set in a Brooklyn dumpster and they had been drinking PBR instead of Merlot. Also, there's a good bit of generally snotty teenage behaviour, but that's to be expected in a novel about teens. The premise of the novel is grand. The grief of young people is handled very well. Unfortunately, the characters are like an unholy union of Glee fans and people who take pictures from 4chan and post them to other sites on the Internets, that is to say, people who desperately want others to think they are "cool," "with it," and "hip to the scene," etc. For young people, I think this would be a great book. For jaded early-middle-aged shut-ins like myself, it's just a frustrating disappointment.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Celina Araujo

    I feel dirty reading young adult fiction, but this book was listed in the Editor's Choice of the NYT book review, so I can use that to rationalize my intellectual downfall. The book is about an unpopular girl who is trying to honour her dead best friend's memory by putting on a play that she (the dead friend) wrote. That part of the novel I'm fine with. The topic of teenagers dealing with grief while still trying to be like teenagers is handled very well in the novel. Unfortunately, none of the I feel dirty reading young adult fiction, but this book was listed in the Editor's Choice of the NYT book review, so I can use that to rationalize my intellectual downfall. The book is about an unpopular girl who is trying to honour her dead best friend's memory by putting on a play that she (the dead friend) wrote. That part of the novel I'm fine with. The topic of teenagers dealing with grief while still trying to be like teenagers is handled very well in the novel. Unfortunately, none of the characters are at all likable. The characters in the novel all seem to be pseudo-ironic faux-hipsters, who love ninjas, breaking into song, and complaining about how American horror movies are vastly inferior to the Korean originals. The only way the characters in the novel could have been more like cliched wannabe hipsters would have been if the novel were set in a Brooklyn dumpster and they had been drinking PBR instead of Merlot. Also, there's a good bit of generally snotty teenage behaviour, but that's to be expected in a novel about teens. The premise of the novel is grand. The grief of young people is handled very well. Unfortunately, the characters are like an unholy union of Glee fans and people who take pictures from 4chan and post them to other sites on the Internets, that is to say, people who desperately want others to think they are "cool," "with it," and "hip to the scene," etc. For young people, I think this would be a great book. For me, it's just a frustrating disappointment

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Originally posted at www.crackaspinebookreviews.blogspot.com Review: The summary of this book drew me in immediately and I thought I was going to be in for a fantastic read. Unfortunately, the story fell flat for me and I was left feeling disappointed. Cass was a likable enough lead, but she just wasn’t distinctive enough to make a lasting impression on me. She could be very selfish at times, and had a real problem facing up to her issues. A lot of the story talked about how much Cass felt exclude Originally posted at www.crackaspinebookreviews.blogspot.com Review: The summary of this book drew me in immediately and I thought I was going to be in for a fantastic read. Unfortunately, the story fell flat for me and I was left feeling disappointed. Cass was a likable enough lead, but she just wasn’t distinctive enough to make a lasting impression on me. She could be very selfish at times, and had a real problem facing up to her issues. A lot of the story talked about how much Cass felt excluded when her best friend Julia made new friends, but in reality, if Cass had actually made any effort, she would have been readily accepted into the new group. Speaking of the supporting characters, they were another issue for me. They suffered from a lack of development to the point where they all more or less blurred into one for me. They were also very stereotypical, don’t break the mold types of characters and I felt it was a real shame that the author didn’t take the time to flesh them out more, as strong supporting characters can often lift a book from being average, to being great. The time jumps in the book were quite jerky and sometimes took away from the flow of the story. It could have been improved if the jumps to the ‘Then’ chapters actually related to what was going on in the ‘Now’ chapters, but to me, it just felt too much like two completely different stories. Overall, the book was a sometimes fun, but mostly disappointing read. If the author had spent more time developing stronger characters, I think the outcome could have been quite different.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. There are moments where you're reading a book, and the narrative describes your thoughts about yourself so perfectly that the floor comes out from under you, and you say "Whoa." That happened twice while reading this book. A friend of mine recommended it on Facebook, so I thought I'd give it a whirl, and the book will stick with me forever because I was this girl. I still am this girl, in certain ways. Not quite as into anime/ninja stuff, not quite as awkward, but still. The line "There is a per There are moments where you're reading a book, and the narrative describes your thoughts about yourself so perfectly that the floor comes out from under you, and you say "Whoa." That happened twice while reading this book. A friend of mine recommended it on Facebook, so I thought I'd give it a whirl, and the book will stick with me forever because I was this girl. I still am this girl, in certain ways. Not quite as into anime/ninja stuff, not quite as awkward, but still. The line "There is a person somewhere in the world who actually considers me kissable!" is one that I still wonder about as far as myself, and I've often stood in front of the mirror having the exact same thoughts as Cassandra. "But, I kept staring, as if to answer the question: What had she seen in me that I hadn't seen?" I've lived that moment. I still live that moment. The story also touched on the aching loss of a friend at such a young age, where everyone's supposed to be invincible, where you don't have to worry about moving past crippling loss. Where your own identity is a terrifying thing, and where a belief in God is reconciled with a belief in the self. Cassie learned that you have to move on from the past, whether it's good or bad. She had to leave behind the greatest friend in her life, and she had to leave behind the idea of her bully, or else she wouldn't have discovered herself, and what it is to love in the wake of death.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bunker

    Horner weaves a tale of loyalty, love, and loss in this novel featuring Cass, who has recently endured the death of her best friend, Julia. Julia, who perished in a late night car accident in the rain, had long been the object of Cass's love, even though Cass does not realize her feelings until it is too late. While Julia's boyfriend, Oliver, and the rest of her drama friends band together to bring Julia's secret project- "Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad"- to the stage, Cass decides to honor Jul Horner weaves a tale of loyalty, love, and loss in this novel featuring Cass, who has recently endured the death of her best friend, Julia. Julia, who perished in a late night car accident in the rain, had long been the object of Cass's love, even though Cass does not realize her feelings until it is too late. While Julia's boyfriend, Oliver, and the rest of her drama friends band together to bring Julia's secret project- "Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad"- to the stage, Cass decides to honor Julia's memory by embarking on the cross-country trip they had planned to California with a credit card for emergencies, a tent, protein bars, her bicycle, and Julia's ashes. The catalysts to her journey are the palpable jealousy between Cass and Oliver over who loved Julia more and the naming of Heather, Cass's middle school homophobic nemesis, as the lead in Julia's musical. Along the way, both on her road trip and as she works on the play afterward, Cass encounters places and truths that were always over the horizon and in her mind's periphery, and she learns the valuable lesson that age can bring transformation. The alternating chapters between past and present slow down the plot, but the tender portrayal of Cass's development keeps this book afloat.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    Cass is having a rough time. Her best (and possibly only) friend, Julia, was killed in a car accident. Now Julia's friends are putting on a musical that Julia wrote before her death. The problem: the female lead, Heather, is the same girl that terrorized Cass three years earlier by calling her a lesbian in front of the whole school. The story switches between Cass's journey by bicycle to take Julia's ashes to the Pacific, and her struggle to figure out her new relationship with Heather, all whil Cass is having a rough time. Her best (and possibly only) friend, Julia, was killed in a car accident. Now Julia's friends are putting on a musical that Julia wrote before her death. The problem: the female lead, Heather, is the same girl that terrorized Cass three years earlier by calling her a lesbian in front of the whole school. The story switches between Cass's journey by bicycle to take Julia's ashes to the Pacific, and her struggle to figure out her new relationship with Heather, all while trying to come to terms with what her sexual orientation may or may not be. I liked the idea of this book. Using a journey to discover the self, and then making amends with the past sounds like a great concept. However, I never really got into the story or the characters. Julia never seemed like much of a real person to me, and I couldn't relate to Cass. I also couldn't wrap my head around doing a "Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad" musical, probably because that is so far off of the radar of what I'd be into. I'm sure this is probably a good book for somebody, maybe a teen trying to come to terms with who he or she is, but it just wasn't for me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    ANOTHER story about a teen dealing with the death of a friend? But I've already read Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Catch & Release and not to mention (not quite in the same category) If I Stay. But as the cover tells you, this is more of a love story than an angsty downer. At first I wasn't so taken with the narrative style which seemed all over the place. But I kept going and the story won me over. The book is not a cliche. In any way, other than with its "Will the School Musical Come Togethe ANOTHER story about a teen dealing with the death of a friend? But I've already read Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Catch & Release and not to mention (not quite in the same category) If I Stay. But as the cover tells you, this is more of a love story than an angsty downer. At first I wasn't so taken with the narrative style which seemed all over the place. But I kept going and the story won me over. The book is not a cliche. In any way, other than with its "Will the School Musical Come Together On Time?" subplot. Instead this is a sweet story about friendship, dating, first love, forgiveness and growing up. It's a short read, but a good one.

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