Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross

I vaguely remember being a teenager. That’s a difficult statement to make, given that I am now an adult and I write for teenagers. A better statement would be that I’ve actively tried to repress the memories of being a teenager. Adolescence was a difficult time, and when I approach the age group through fiction, and I think about how I want to speak to them, and how I want to be heard, but it’s always with the voice of my younger self in mind.

Sometimes, the self I remember is a bit of an embarrassment to the adult me. She lacked the self-awareness, empowerment, and wisdom that I imagine comes with the cultivation of hardship. Some kids have it tougher, and perhaps they know how and when to fight harder.

I didn’t have those experiences growing up. I consider myself very fortunate as a result.

In fiction, this is a difficult thing to muster: as adults, we remember the awkward years, the things that preoccupied us, and the tragedies that were monumental to our younger selves. I ask myself now how I would classify a “typical” upbringing, and there isn’t really a hard and fast answer to that, but what I imagine what might’ve been typical in the 1960’s is something very similar to the world we’re presented through Caroline’s eyes.

It’s routine, a little shallow, astonishingly self-centered, and very naive.

In my most humble, I’d say I remember the things that were important to me then are very trivial to me now, and I’m glad those pains have passed, but reading Half in Love with Death brings it all back, and it hurts, and it’s a little embarrassing — those first foibles in love, the first kisses, and the preoccupations of a juvenile mind that lacks the power to really make a change in her environment.

Post-Mortem: Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross

To draw that out of an adult is no small feat — the capacity to bring down the evil-doers — but as a character unto herself, I wish I had the capacity to smack some sense into the protagonist of Half in Love with Death. I wish I could transplant Caroline into The Hunger Games to see how a different sort of stress might change her perception of the world.

This is not a hero book, ladies and gentlemen. If you’re looking for the autonomy and wherewithal to take on the sort of darkness that steals your sister from you and leaves no trace, Caroline is not the place you’ll find it. Caroline is a product of the era in which she’s grown up, and she is, as described by her would-be killer, a flower-headed fool.

This isn’t a bad thing: it’s a true thing, and in this case, it’s where fiction mirrors reality pretty well.

And it makes me as an adult reader looking back on my formative years rather uncomfortable, to which I offer the author kudos. That in and of itself makes for a successful characterization, but perhaps it’s not the sort of thing I actively seek out as a reader.

Allow me to explain, because this is ultimately where I get a little biased and I can’t offer a straightforward critique:

For me, the really real characters in fiction present a paradox: I hope for female protagonists who are not bogged down by preoccupations with clothing and makeup and boys; who are driven to make a change, to become a force to be reckoned with. The reality is that in writing something true, you often need to shed those hopes and look at things for what they are:

Given that Half in Love with Death is historically set in a climate where women did not have the same freedoms we are afforded today, Caroline moves through the story a victim, and emerges the same. It’s a bleak path for any character to follow, but it remains true to many situations in life. She grows as a character, but it’s a subtle shift and not an obvious one.

As a fan of dark fiction, I watched the story unravel along with the antagonists gradual degeneration into monstrosity, and I hoped for two things:

Caroline’s death to close the loop on the previous murders in the book, and also for her survival, no matter how impossible that might seem with the odds stacked against her as they were because of who she is as a character.

Tough choice between those two conclusive avenues. Neither is better than the other, and so, my review and subsequent rating of the book boils down to personal preference.

With respects to pacing, the novel took it’s time to rev up. Understandably, Half in Love with Death began its life as an adult novel, and the buildup perhaps isn’t as swift as you’d anticipate for a book targeted for younger readers. It’s a bit bogged down with the setting and surroundings following Jess’ disappearance, which serves to colour the time period when it’s set, but doesn’t altogether serve the story.

When the action does hit, however, I was afraid for Caroline, and that fear prompted me to finish reading in a rush so I could find out who survived and who didn’t.

Being bloodthirsty, I am only half-satisfied with how the book concludes, but to be fair: the monsters are monsters. The manipulative, sly sort that play the reader for the better part of the novel, and dispatches you promptly when they’ve had enough of you.

My recommendation is to try the book, and see if it’s flavour fits your palette.

Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross in Summary

Half in Love with Death by Emily RossHalf In Love With Death by Emily Ross
Published by Adams Media on November 6, 2015
Genres: Dark Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover
Source: The Author
Check it out: Goodreads

It's the era of peace and love in the 1960s, but nothing is peaceful in Caroline's life. Since her beautiful older sister disappeared, fifteen-year-old Caroline might as well have disappeared too. She's invisible to her parents, who can't stop blaming each other. The police keep following up on leads even Caroline knows are foolish. The only one who seems to care about her is Tony, her sister's older boyfriend, who soothes Caroline's desperate heart every time he turns his magical blue eyes on her. Tony is convinced that the answer to Jess's disappearance is in California, the land of endless summer, among the street culture of runaways and flower children. Come with me, Tony says to Caroline, and we'll find her together. Tony is so loving, and all he cares about is bringing Jess home. And so Caroline follows, and closes a door behind her that may never open again, in a heartfelt thriller that never lets up.

I received this book for free from The Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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