Curiosity Quills Press | 2014
Opening Hook: Complaining about being insecure.
Main Character: A 12-year-old stuck in a grown woman’s body.
Plot Ghosty-ness: Sparkly ghosts are just as interesting to me as sparkly vampires.
In my quest to keep my New Year’s resolution of catching up on old ARCs from NetGalley, I went back to the very oldest books on my shelf. I apparently requested this one back in 2016 and, honestly, I have no fucking idea why.
YA and I are not the best of friends. I try. I really do. But, I have a hard time finding YA thrillers that aren’t super lame or cheesy, or that can exist in the real world without requiring the main character to be rich and parentless, and falling in love within a day, in order to move the story along.
Though I occasionally read supernatural thrillers, supernatural romance is definitely not my thing. It never has been. To each other their own, but I find the genre dumb AF.
So, why the hell do I have this book? Was I high? What could I have possibly been thinking when I requested it? Whatever the reason, here were are. I read the whole thing. I didn’t like it, but I read it.
This didn’t work for me for a number of reasons. For one, the title is misleading. It’s cute, but not accurate. No one is dating dead guys in this book. There’s just a university student who acts like she’s 12, and keeps blushing at the male ghosts that she accidentally brought back from whatever purgatory they were stuck in.
When it comes to the magic, not only does it take a bit of a backseat to things like pregnant friends and what everyone is going to eat, it’s also super confusing and vague. Nothing is ever really explained in a palpable way, or even in a way that is more common to what we see in other pop culture of this kind in order to make it easier to understand without explanation.
Like, why is every sparkling ghost sharing the same body? Where did this body come from? Why does it turn to rubber during a full moon? Why does its voice change based on which ghost is occupying it? Why can pictures reveal the identity of the ghost in the body? Where are these spirits coming back from? And why? Is it Emma’s job to guide them to some kind of closure like she’s the Ghost Whisperer? Why does Emma just go along with everything without searching for any answers?
And speaking of, I didn’t realize I found this so annoying (maybe because most authors wouldn’t do this) but naming a main after someone famous? Come on. Emma Roberts, seriously? There was no other last name available that would have sufficed?
While I did find a lot of lame gender stuff in this book (girls are only feminine in dresses, all women cry when they don’t get their way, women love to create drama, etc…,) my biggest issue was really how juvenile it was. The characters, the dialogue, the scenes, the reactions… it was like an after-school special for 8-year-olds.
The synopsis says it’s classified as “NA, but it can be YA and read by anyone in 10th grade or older.” I have a kid in grade 10 and they would think I was insane for suggesting this book to them. Their favourite show is Hannibal, and this read like it was Saved By the Bell meets Muppet Babies. I’ve yet to read a NA novel that didn’t have super mature themes and scenes. This was not that.
So really, who is this book marketed to? Why did the author write it in such a dumbed-down, childish tone? I just didn’t understand. The characters are young adults, away at school, renting their own apartments, having babies and driving a Lexus, but they behave and speak like the kids I went to school with in grade 8 who had been homeschooled up to that point. “Oh my gosh, did you just say *whispers* …penis?”
It was absurdly cheesy and lame. And Emma’s “no one likes me, I’m such a loser” vibe got real old, real fast. If I had to hear her turn down another sweet compliment from someone, I was going to scream. No one likes people like that in real life, and we certainly don’t need a main character with that trait. I don’t see the point of persisting Emma’s character development this way.
The characters in this book were after-school special stereotypes that only exist in pop culture and never in real life. There was little thought given to being anything other than a cookie-cutter “teen” story, including every element we’ve seen before. The loser girl, the mean girls, the frat party etc. It felt like it was written by a younger person who doesn’t understand what happens in real life – how cops work, how renting an apartment works, how childbirth even works. It was so bizarre that instead of being taken into a world of magic and supernatural elements, I was just harshly aware of the weirdness the whole time.
There is apparently some killer storyline here about The Smiley Face Killer, but it was such a thin element to the plot I struggle to call it a storyline at all. This could have been much better if the The Smiley Face Killer had been included more to ground this in something real and dark.
If this innocent kid thing is your jam, you’ll probably like this. It’s just light and fluffy and doesn’t take much thought to read. But for me, it’s was cheesy and didn’t reflect what I know of college kids. I was a college kid. And a teenager. And I parent two teenagers. I mean, my 15-year-old stepkid has a 4-foot blow-up penis in their room that a friend decided was an excellent birthday present.
Regular kids are not this “oh shucks, golly gosh” innocent trope, and I don’t understand why we have to write for them that way. Maybe I’m just a picky bitch that is way too old for this kind of childish of storytelling, but this didn’t work for me.
College sophomore Emma Roberts remembers her mother’s sage advice: “don’t sleep around, don’t burp in public, and don’t tell anyone you see ghosts”. But when cute Mike Carlson drowns in the campus river under her watch, Emma’s sheltered life shatters.
Blamed for Mike’s death and haunted by nightmares, Emma turns to witchcraft and a mysterious Book of Shadows to bring him back. Under a Blood Moon, she lights candles, draws a pentacle on the campus bridge, and casts a spell. The invoked river rages up against her, but she escapes its fury. As she stumbles back to the dorm, a stranger drags himself from the water and follows her home. And he isn’t the only one…
Instead of raising Mike, Emma assists the others she stole back from the dead—a pre-med student who jumped off the bridge, a young man determined to solve his own murder, and a frat boy Emma can’t stand…at first. More comfortable with the dead than the living, Emma delves deeper into the seductive Book of Shadows. Her powers grow, but witchcraft may not be enough to protect her against the vengeful river and the killers that feed it their victims.
Inspired by the controversial Smiley Face Murders, HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS will appeal to the secret powers hidden deep within each of us.
Book source: Curiosity Quills Press via NetGalley in exchange for a review