With a title like that, how can you not at least pick up this book? That's what grabbed my attention and what kept my attention was the plot synopsis on the jacket flap hinting that the main character was a lesbian, something a bit unusual and I happen to like GL and BL stories more than traditional straight romances for some reason. I have a theory that, for a straight romance, the author assumes that the audience will sympathize with the characters and be interested in their relationship so they just write a romance and focus on that part of the story. Most of the GL/BL I find however is a mixture of genres, as if the author is worried that readers might not sympathize with someone with a different sexual orientation and includes other things in the story to keep their interest, and I really prefer mixed genre stories to straight up romance. So, with that theory of mine in mind, I checked the book out and just hoped that I'd like it.
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
I have mixed opinions on the cover; on the one hand I like how the sign was used to hold the title (mostly because the text physically fit onto the sign very nicely) but the rest of the image feels odd. I suppose it's of Cass as she's biking around with Julia's ashes but somehow it doesn't fit with the mood of the book very well.
Summary: Cass isn't spending her summer how she initially envisioned it. Originally she and her best friend Julia had planned to travel across the entire country until they came to the Pacific Ocean but Julia's sudden death crushed that dream. Or so it seems, trying to cope with her loss Cass now plans to bike the whole way there, carrying Julia's ashes with her as a symbol of sorts, until she's called back home to help out Julia's friends do their own thing in memory of Julia, put on a play she was writing at the time of her death. Cass spends the summer coming to grips with her own identity and her grief amongst all the things going on.
The Good: I wasn't expecting to but I really connected well with Cass and a lot of things that she said (and that Julia had said) seemed to perfectly sum up that late high school time of your life. There was one scene in particular, Cass is looking in a mirror and discovers that is "not not pretty" and I remember having that exact same moment in my senior year and other scenes seemed to perfectly sum up life at that age. I really liked how the romance between Cass and Heather was handled, even though they hated each other in middle school the progression from people who tolerated each other to people who're in love was nicely done. If anything, at those points it was easier to sympathize with Heather since it's easy to see just how hard she is working to try and make everything work, especially when some of Julia's friends come off as a bit more self-absorbed. It's a book where the characters are the most important element and Cass, Heather, and Julia make this book work.
The Bad: The story is told through alternating chapters, Cass on the road and then Cass after her trip helping make the play, and it doesn't quite work. It's more interesting to read that way but it's strange that some of the character development (especially for Cass and Julia's boyfriend Oliver) happened earlier chronologically but doesn't show up until later in the book. It's as if the characters developed and then forgot until that chapter actually came up in sequence and then they redeveloped for the later scenes in the book. I have have some minor, nit-picky issues with how making of the play went* but that's more of a personal complaint than one that actually hurts the book.
This was my favorite book this summer because of just how much I was able to connect to the characters, even if they aren't like me at all, and it's one of the few books with high school aged protagonists that actually felt realistic to me. So, buying in the future for sure, I really need to start keeping a wishlist on Amazon so I remember to get all of these titles someday.
*I did tech crew in high school some and I have yet to find a work of fiction that realizes there there is a huge difference between the actors and the tech crew (at my school they were two totally different groups of people who never hung out and the tech crew was much more outgoing and strange than the actors, basically the opposite of every work of fiction right there).