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Dead Like You

A review of The Black Butterfly by Shirley Reva Vernick, a ghost story with shades of Meg Cabot's Mediator series and a dash of Gilmore Girls.

Dead Like You

BOOK REPORT for The Black Butterfly by Shirley Reva Vernick

Cover Story: Kitschy Cool
BFF Charm: Auntie Mame
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Sass Lite
Bonus Factors: Maine, Sookie
Relationship Status: Repeat Summer Fling

Cover Story: Kitschy Cool

This cover is like cross between an emo sketchbook and one of those endangered cat tshirts from the 90s, but I kinda like it. Spooky eyes, bleeding tears, ink spatters—it beats the hell out of stock photos.

The Deal:

Penny's loser mom is out west chasing ghosts (like, real ones, not a euphemism for old boyfriends or unresolved psychological issues), and dumps her AGAIN. Over Christmas, no less, and this time doesn't even bother to let her stay in Massachusetts with Gigi in Gigi's tiny apartment that smells like teriyaki and cats. This time, it's worse: Maine. She's going to Maine, to stay with her mom's BFF Bubbles in her crappy old inn, and guess what? She's never even heard of Bubbles. But when she gets to the island and Bubbles and the Black Butterfly, all her dreams start to come true. Too bad all her dreams means her nightmares, too, when it turns out the cute ghost down the hall isn't the one around, but he is the only one who doesn't want to kill her.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

It's not so much that I wouldn't be normal friends with Penny, or that she's immature—she's pretty cute, with her obsession with grisly murder mysteries (girl, have you read Denise Mina?) and perfect quotes—as it is the girl just straight needs an big sister. Her mom's a train wreck, Bubbles means well but can't climb out of her wine glass, and Rita (the inn's chef) is awesome but, because she is awesome, also has her own life to live. Penny's no dummy, but she needs someone who will support her, encourage her dreams, and get her to lighten the hell up and have a little fun.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

There's a little bit of Meg Cabot's Mediator series here, with a sexy ghost crush (his name is Blue, though, and the only way I was able to be okay with that choice was to picture him as Callum Blue in Dead Like Me), but the swoon focus is Bubbles' son, George. Before everyone goes all contempt-for-instalove on me (is that a thing people still hate? idk, I've been in a cave lately), think back to high school. What's the first thing you do upon arriving at summer/band/nerd pretend-college/drama camp or a week-long family vacation? Scope out the possibilities, that's what, and develop a crush on the cutest potential there, whether or not you'd actually be interested in real life. It's SO WEIRD, but there really is this almost imperative to crush on someone, anyone, when you're in a new environment, so it would be pretty normal for Penny and George to immediately start making out, since they're the only teenagers stuck at the Black Butterfly in the frozen depths of December.

They don't make out on their first meeting, but Vernick does a great job building up the classic holiday crush, with all the anxieties and jealousies that come with not knowing a thing about a person, and throwing in enough life-threatening situations to bring the two of them together for real. As Baby and Johnny taught us, there's nothing like adversity and someone nearly dying to turn a vacation fling into true love. Plus, George is pretty cute, even if I was mildly squicked out by the college-boy/high-school-girl romance.

Talky Talk: Sass Lite

It's kind of like Easy Listening, except in a good way, like when the station plays Bon Jovi and Pink Martini with the von Trapp family, and not so much Lionel Ritchie or late-career Stevie Wonder (in other words, this book does not just call to say, "I love you.") What I'm saying is Penny's sass doesn't make her a huge pain in the ass teenager, but rather a funny, likable protagonist who makes you smile nostalgically and shake your head, and hope she doesn't get killed by those vengeful ghosts.

Bonus Factor: Maine

Penny may disagree with me, and I should too, after the wimpy way I handled the winter we just had in Virginia (excuse me, but it is NOT OKAY for it to be 80 degrees on Monday and snowing on Wednesday, or even snowing AT ALL in March). But Maine just seems so romantic, all rocks and wind-swept shores and standoffish locals, kind of the moors of North America.

Bonus Factor: Sookie

I don't know if it's because I've been reading Meredith's Gilmore Girls recaps or what, but Rita, the cook at the inn, is someone I want to put in my pocket and keep at home. She cooks the most amazing things, and is also wise and kind, even if she's a bit of a meddling old lady. So, not exactly Sookie I guess, except for the inn and cooking things, but whatever

Casting Call:

Odeya Rush as Penny

It's the hair.

Lucien Laviscount as George

Look, I have no idea about this guy, except he has a badass name and he was on Coronation Street, which my slightly batty neighbor lady frequently asks if I want to come over and watch.

As I mentioned before, Callum Blue as Blue is the only way I can deal with the name "Blue".

Callum Blue as Blue

Whoops. Was he supposed to be wearing a shirt? My mistake.

Chloe Moretz as Starla

Relationship Status: Repeat Summer Fling

There's enough going on in this book to make me want to do more than hold hands at movie night, and for me to look forward to our families going to the same campground again next summer. Mystery, death threats, secrets, dream walking, ghost whispering, amazing food, angst and growing up—well, you get the idea.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from the author.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). The Black Butterfly will be available May 27.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.