As you may or may not know, I am the kind of person who loves getting super stoked on books. Most of the time it entails me thinking about the book while biking to work: What will happen next? What is so-and-so’s motives for doing something so stupid? In the past two months, I’ve blown through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, the entire Pretty Little Liars series, and a slew of comic books and graphic novels. Nothing too deep, but books that have the power to monopolize my thoughts and make me want to stay home and read rather than hang out with friends.
I read Emily Horner’s A Love Story: Starring My Dead Best Friend wanting a light summer read starring a queer lady, and that is exactly what I got. In fact, I camped out at Coffeehouse Five (it was too cold to hang out outside) and read the whole book in one day. I didn’t want to like it because my good friend Caitlin has been talking about writing a queer YA book about a girl who goes on a bike tour for quite a while, and I was secretly hoping that it wouldn’t be very good so Cait could write a better version. It turns out that I really enjoyed the book, and I still think Caitlin could write a great novel. So win-win.
The story is split into two different timelines, the then and now. The “then” story arc primarily consists of Cass dealing with her best friend Julia’s death. The two had previously planned a cross-country road trip from Illinois to California, but after Julia is suddenly killed in a car accident, Cass decides to go by herself to spread her dead BFF’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean. By bike. In the present time, Julia (a self-described drama nerd) had been working on a script for a bloody ninja musical before she died, and her friends (all of whom are also drama nerds) decide to put on the play in her honor. Cass is the only non-theater person helping with the play and she has some serious struggles with belonging – even though she has a tight-knit friend circle, they are friends she met through Julia. When Julia dies, Cass wonders if Julia was the only tie she had to the people she has spent the past few years hanging out with.
Working on the play, she is forced to work with Heather, her arch-nemesis from middle school, the girl who called her out for being queer in front of the entire school and generally made her day-to-day a living hell. But she quickly discovers that Heather is not so one-dimensional as previously thought. Oh come on. I’m beating around the bush trying to not give anything away, but we all know Heather is gay. That is why she was such a homophobic bitch to Cass, obvs. Don’t worry – knowing that gem won’t ruin the rest of story for you.
I love a queer young adult novel. I kinda think it is a formula you can’t go wrong with, and I wish there were such awesome, positive and heartwarming books out there when I was in middle or high school. One of reasons I liked this book so much, though, was Cass’s use of a bike as her main mode of transportation. In the media, I feel like there is generally so much focus on driving and having a car, especially as a metaphor for escape and entrance to adulthood, while bikes are typically portrayed as babyish in movies. So to see Cass using a bike a way to escape her life and process her grief and become an adult was awesome. It made me want to go on bike tour and just be quiet with myself for awhile.