One of the first things that caught my eye about debut novelist Emily Ross is the fact that she is part of the GrubStreet community of writers. Many of our favorite authors come from this fantastic Boston-based creative writing center—including Randy Susan Meyers and Bret Anthony Johnston. It is no surprise, then, that Ross is a very talented writer. Her novel, Half in Love with Death (December 2015), is a great piece of smart young adult fiction, and will appeal to a widespread audience (including adult readers).
The novel opens on the night Jess and her boyfriend, Tony, were supposed to take Jess’s younger sister, Caroline, to the movies. But plans change when Jess gets grounded. Jess insists she must see Tony, though, and makes her sister promise not to say anything when she sneaks out of the house. This is the last time Caroline and her family see Jess.
Dissatisfied with the progress of the police’s ongoing investigation into Jess’s disappearance, Caroline announces to school friends that she is taking it upon herself to launch an investigation of her own. Looking into her sister’s disappearance, Tony and one of Jess’s friends begin to reflect on the night Jess disappeared and share what they remember. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this they actually remember or are just making up. But, poor naive Caroline doesn’t question their recollections. I was scared for her and couldn’t put the book down until I found out what happened.
Ross did a great job writing from the perspective of an innocent, trusting teenager. The things Caroline saw and thought of made her a very interesting, but unreliable, narrator. When the reliability of the narrator is questionable, such as in Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, it makes for a very interesting read.
As it turns out, this thriller is based on a true crime story from the 1960s. A serial killer name Charles Schmid, nicknamed “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” was a young man when he killed three people. Knowing this novel drew from some real events made it even more intriguing to me.
As a whole, Half in Love with Death is a great book. The last quarter of it is especially gripping. I recommend this novel to both young adult and adult readers who enjoy mysteries and thrillers.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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