A fully dressed girl at the bottom of a body of water

About the Book

Title: R.I.P. Eliza Hart
Published: 2017
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: All Wet
BFF Charm: Meh
Talky Talk: She Said, She Said…From the Grave
Bonus Factor: Big Sur
Factor: Battling Mental Illness
Relationship Status: Friends From My Old School

Trigger Warning: This book talks in depth about claustrophobia, bipolar disorder, depression and suicide. Enter at your own risk.

Cover Story: All Wet

While it’s not revolutionary, this cover is a good take on Ellie’s claustrophobia, since she frequently compares being in tight spaces to feeling like she’s drowning. It gets a solid B- from me: fine but not great.

The Deal:

Ellie Sokoloff has had a severe case of claustrophobia since she was a kid, and a lifetime of therapy hasn’t helped. She still can’t use elevators or be in rooms without windows, and her classmates have tortured her for years. Thinking a change of scenery will do her some good, she applies to Ventana Ranch, an elite boarding school in Big Sur. On her first day at Ventana Ranch, Ellie bumps into Eliza Hart, the Barbie-doll blonde who was Ellie’s best friend in kindergarten and first grade. Ellie assumes she’s found a friend, but when Eliza tells the entire school that Ellie stalked her, and only came to Ventana Ranch because Eliza did, Ellie’s quickly a social pariah once more.

And when Eliza’s dead body is found off the nearby cliffs, rumors start to spread that Eliza’s stalker must be to blame. Ellie has to clear her name, so she and her suitemate Sam set out to figure out what actually happened to Eliza, and uncover the secrets that Eliza hid from her friends, her family, and even herself.

BFF Charm: Meh

Ellie’s in a bit of a predicament. I mean, she moves all the way across the country to escape her reputation of being a “freak,” and when she gets to Ventana Ranch, she runs smack into her old best friend who immediately tells everyone that she’s a “freak” stalker. I know that I was supposed to feel for her, and at times, I totally did. But I also felt like Ellie’s claustrophobia defined her. I gleaned little else about her personality. And as frequently as she was down on herself but idolized Eliza (who, tbh, was not that great), I sometimes thought maybe she was a little bit obsessed. So in that sense, no, I wouldn’t give her my BFF charm.

But at the same time, Ellie had a crippling phobia that she never once stopped trying to recover from. She saw eight separate therapists, moved across the country thinking it would help, and even occasionally used immersion therapy by shutting herself into her own closet. As much as she let her claustrophobia define her, she never wallowed in it, which deserves serious props.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Ellie’s progressive west coast school sees zero problems with making boys and girls suitemates. (Maybe this is okay everywhere? I grew up in the Bible belt, so I wouldn’t know.) Ellie’s suitemate Sam is a Capital C Cutie, and in their quest to figure out what the heck happened to Eliza Hart, feelings start to flow freely. There are some sweet moments, but a lot of the swoon was spoiled for me because Ellie suffers from the old YA trope of being a beautiful girl who has never once considered that she might be pretty or that a boy might actually like her. So even when Sam is in the act of kissing her, she assumes it’s out of pity. This admittedly gets a little tiresome after an entire book of Sam making his feelings crystal clear.

Talky Talk: She Said, She Said…From the Grave

R.I.P. Eliza Hart alternates between Ellie and Eliza’s points of view. The tone of Ellie’s chapters are heavy on descriptions of her past and her phobia, and light on any sort of references that would date the book. What you get is a straight up contemporary novel with a timeless feel. Eliza’s chapters, coming to us from some hazy, post-death place, are dreamier, more disconnected. When I read books with alternating POVs, I need a distinct change in tone from chapter to chapter or else I frequently have to stop and remember whose voice I’m reading. Sheinmel excels at giving us two distinct voices, and while a dead girl narrating some of the chapters seems strange, it provided just the right amount of insight into Eliza’s half of the story.

This book is billed as a thriller murder mystery, and that’s probably where the bulk of my disappointment lies. There was too little action to call it a thriller, and while the author attempted to create who-done-it tension, the mystery was never very mysterious.

Bonus Factor: Big Sur

Bridge and mountains on the coast of Big Sur

Ventana Ranch sits on top of a hill in Big Sur, surrounded by beautiful redwoods and coastal cliffs. The descriptions will make you want to hop a plane to the West Coast ASAP.

Factor: Battling Mental Illness

Silhouette of a woman sitting sadly on the floor in front of a balcony

This book definitely comes with a handful of trigger warnings: claustrophobia, depression, bipolar disorder and suicide specifically. Ellie’s claustrophobia, triggered by a traumatic event from her childhood, is crippling, to say the least. She’s missed out on so many important moments growing up because she can’t be in a room without windows, and even hugging people can be challenging. The examination of mental illness in R.I.P. Eliza Hart was notable because it focused both on people who were battling it, as well as the people who were affected by mentally ill friends and family members.

Relationship Status: Friends From My Old School

When we were going to school together, Book, I had a pretty good time hanging out. But now that I’m moving to a different town, I’ll add you as a Facebook friend, and send you the occasional meme on Instagram, but I probably won’t work very hard to keep in touch. We’ll go our separate ways and remember each other fondly.

FTC Full Disclosure: This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. R.I.P. Eliza Hart is available today.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.