This story is split between “Then” during the bike trip Cass embarks on after the death of her best friend Julia, and “Now” which is the production of a musical Julia wrote shortly before her death entitled “Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.”
This is a fairly complex piece of writing. The details are slowly teased out between the two narratives of Now and Then. Characters are introduced, you sense the history, but don’t have any of the background information. If this sounds like it is a problem, it isn’t really. It is just for a more sophisticated reader. The writing was very reminiscent of John Green (well to me anyway) in its smartness and complexity and they way that the kids spoke. Very smartly. Very big idea-y. Very advanced. Occasionally I thought maybe too advanced? But there are smart kids out there – so I gave it a pass.
Cass is a Quaker, or more accurately, her parents are Quakers and she’s pretty much all the way there. She’s always been the weird kid not allowed to do things everyone else takes for granted. She’s always stood out, she’s had rumors about her since she can remember. Mean rumors. Hurtful rumors. But she’s always had Julia to help her be ok with that. With Julia gone, everything just crumbles. She no longer knows her place in the world.
At times, the emotion in this book overwhelmed me. I think I cried through every single “Then” section. Sobbed might be more accurate. There was one scene where Ollie (Julia’s boyfriend) lashes out at Cass. Up to that point you know that they had some sort of falling out, but not the details. When you find out, you can’t believe the deliberate cruelty. You wonder how they make it back together in the “Now” sections (because they are in the first “Now” section – don’t worry I didn’t give anything away there). And then you get to that part and you wonder at the beauty and power of friendship and how it can heal you even when you’re dealing with an unbearable loss. The Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad Musical was a sweet addition, a beautiful tribute to a beloved friend, a method of coping and an expression of love.
I really liked this one.
Book Source: Publisher Review Copy