by Cherie Priest, Kali Ciesemier, Illustrator
Hardcover, 227 pg.
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
Read: June 4, 2015
This book starts off just like the book description tells you — it’s practically an outline of the first 40 pages. Somehow, even if all they were doing was fulfilling the book jacket copy, the opening chapters sucked me in more and more with each detail until the last sentence on page 35. That line was just creepy. At that point, I put my finger in the book to save the page, called to my daughter (who’d showed minor interest on the book) and told her that unless Priest screwed things up, she had to read this (and seriously , what were the odds of Priest doing that?).
Years after the death of her best friend, Libby, May starts to see drawings around town of something the two had created together (and no one else knew about). How is that possible? She does everything she can to find out, but that doesn’t tell her anything other than that there’s a (pretty popular) webcomic out there starring their creation. There’s a self-proclaimed computer guru (Patrick — he prefers Trick, though) living a few floors below her dad that May hires/cons into going the extra technological mile for her. Their investigation doesn’t remain online, and before long the two are running all over Seattle. They dance between employer/employee; condescending college-aged twerp/younger, slightly naive teen; pals throughout in a way that seems organic and real. It’s probably the most realistic thing in the book after the death of Libby. While I’m talking about them — the hijinks the pair get into in the cemetery result in either the funniest or the grossest line of dialog I’ve read this year. Possibly both.
This isn’t the kind of comic/prose hybrid that Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, Stephen Pastis, etc. are doing — Priest uses the comic pages (taken from the fictional webcomic) to further the plot, to help us see what May and Trick are reading/seeing. Rather than trying to describe (and likely not succeeding all that often) a series of panels and the artwork, we just get them. Shorter, sweeter, to the point. A great merger of the two media. Ciesemier’s art is spot-on, I could easily read a webcomic she draws.
This is a YA novel with no love triangle, no romantic love period — that’s practically enough of a sales pitch for me right there. Friendship — that’s the emotional core driving this. The old friendship between Libby and May, that death hasn’t changed too much; the budding friendship between May and Trick, and another one that’s in spoiler territory. Nowhere along the lines is there even a whiff of anything else between these characters. What a breath of fresh air! There’s some actual parenting (not perfect, but humans trying) along the line, too — a couple of pretty good dads — something else I don’t see a lot in YA. So yay there, too.
It’s an implausible story grounded in three real characters (May, Trick and May’s dad) — and a couple of others that could have been as grounded if we’d gotten a few more pages from them. For the story this is trying to tell? That’s just enough to carry it.
We see the villain enough to find him threatening and somewhat believable, learn enough about him to support that, but not enough that we can develop any sympathy for him — he’s mostly shadow, which frequently feels like under-writing or a cheat by the author. But here it felt like a device to underline the threat he poses.
This is pure escapist adventure reading — no muss, no fuss, no frills. The story matches the medium of a webcomic pretty well. Sure, it could’ve been a deeper, more reflective novel — or even a slightly more realistic one. But it doesn’t need to be. Have I rated better written/constructed novels lower than this? Oh yeah. But this novel was exactly everything it promised to be, everything it needed to be. This grabbed me from the start and didn’t let go until it was done.
As an added bonus for people like me, I’m pretty sure there’s a tip o’ the hat to Robert B. Parker in these pages. That just brought a smile to my face.