AUTHOR: Shaun David Hutchinson
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, Paranormal
RELEASE: February 19, 2019
PUBLISHER: Simon Pulse
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
This ARC was shared with my library by a local bookstore.
Shaun David Hutchinson has once again crafted a can’t-put-down novel about teens at a stand-still learning how to move forward. Like many of his previous novels, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried explores real themes in a contemporary setting while using sci-fi and fantastical elements as a frame. The novel is told in alternating perspectives between Dino and July, who spend the novel trying to figure out why July has returned from the dead, and what happens next. Together, these former best-friends revisit the events that made their relationship go up in flames, while deciding if July’s return is a chance to repair their friendship or a chance to let it go.
The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried has many elements, but all the themes weave together cohesively. It’s a story of death, love, self, identity, and moving forward, all explored primarily through the lens of the lead characters’ friendship. As Dino chases July around (wouldn’t you have a to-do list if you returned from the dead, too?), readers get pieces of the story behind the demise of their friendship; meanwhile, July is also coming to terms with her own death, grieving for herself, and figuring out how to say goodbye to her life. We learn that Dino and July, once inseparable, began falling apart when Dino began dating Rafi and hanging out with a group of other queer teens. This novel has an incredible discussion of the formative time when queer teens begin building support networks within their community and developing relationships with others like themselves. July says many problematic things, but they’re always called out; she learns that having a queer friend doesn’t automatically make her a good ally or give her a free pass. July is challenged to put in actual work and listen to queer voices. The novel addresses microaggressions, harmful stereotypes, and active allyship.
On a wider scale, this novel is about death as a concept. There’s something weird going on, besides the undead teenage girl: all over the world, people have stopped dying. Dino and July can’t help but wonder if this phenomena has been caused by July’s awakening, and what will happen to the world if no one dies ever again. July faces the fear of remaining in an undead state forever, while reconciling that with the fear of a permanent return to the grave. Throughout the novel, she debates about visiting her family a final time and how to say goodbye to the world around her. This novel is an evocative discussion on the role of death, what it means to live, and how we navigate the space around death & grief, that I haven’t seen explored in such a way before.
The narrative is very focused on Dino and July’s relationship, and I adored both of their characters; they both felt real and had distinctive voices. Dino is a teen who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, and wrestles with the decision to not join his family’s funeral home business. He is unsure of himself in a relatable way, while July is confident and loud. She knows who she is, she’s not afraid to take up space, and she’s unapologetically just July. The supporting characters also feel fleshed out, like July and Dino’s respective families, and Dino’s group of supportive queer friends (including Rafi, Dino’s sweet, wonderful boyfriend, who is a biracial trans guy). I loved getting to know Dino and July, and wish the book had been longer so I could have spent more time with them.
While The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried has some of Shaun David Hutchinson’s signature elements (dark humor, queer voices, sci-fi/fantasy elements), the pacing and structure sets this one apart from his other work. Set over just a couple days, July and Dino’s story is fast-paced and their emotions change rapidly throughout the story. The fast-paced nature suits their story well, though, as the reader never knows how long July’s undead state will last. Dino and July both have a desperation: to reconcile their pasts, to say goodbye, to find answers, and to figure out what happens next. The pacing is well-done and perfectly evokes the mood of the story.
July and Dino’s story is heartfelt and real. Shaun David Hutchinson perfectly captures the heartbreak of a friend breakup, and writes honestly about grief, pain, love, and fear, while bringing a perfect amount of hilarity. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried is perfect for fans of Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson, Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon, They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera, and This Is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrows. It’s a quick read that will hook you and make you desperate for Shaun’s next novel— but don’t worry, his wealth of backlist titles can keep you busy in the meantime (my favorites are We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe).
Look for The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried on February 19.