Dead to Me by Mary McCoy
Dead to Me by Mary McCoy
Published March 2015 by Disney-Hyperion

★★★★★

This book is part of my recommendation project, but it deserves its own post, rather than a quick reactions post! Dead to Me by Mary McCoy is a YA mystery novel set in late-1940s Hollywood. Alice, our main character, is the sixteen-year-old daughter of a movie executive, who, despite her fame-obsessed parents’ desires, isn’t quite pretty or talented enough to be a star. Her older sister Annie, however, had a chance at stardom, and hated it: a few years before the start of the story she had an enormous fight with their parents and disappeared. The book begins with Alice finally finding her sister comatose in the hospital after a vicious attack. Spurred on by a meeting with a private detective who claims to be her sister’s friend, Alice embarks on a search to find out what happened to Annie.

Dead to Me is described on the front flap as being a noir detective story – I wholeheartedly agree. It delves into the seedy side of Golden Age Hollywood, and no one is exactly what they seem on the surface. The story deals head-on with some pretty serious subjects: corrupt cops, drug addiction, and the sexual abuse and exploitation of minors are an open secret in Alice’s Hollywood.

McCoy keeps up the pacing and suspense through the whole novel. As the reader, you’re just as unsure as Alice of who to trust – everyone has a secret and hidden motivations behind what they do. Few people are all good or all bad (though some certainly are all bad!) and some are not who you or Alice think they are.

The side characters are colorful – I’d love a spinoff with Camille Grabo or Ruth. Jerry Shaffer, the private-eye Alice meets, is a classic film-noir detective: determined and a little downtrodden. Annie comes to life through Alice’s flashbacks, so that you understand why they were so close, and why Alice was so devastated when she left.

I thought that the story subverted some common tropes in YA literature. Alice’s relationship with her friend Cassie seems to take a major backseat through the novel, and it seems like Cassie is going to be the traditional YA Invisible Best Friend Side Character, but she appears towards the end in a gratifying way. Alice meets a cute boy, Cyrus, in the course of her investigation, and, though she’s attracted to him, the storyline doesn’t end the way these things usually do in YA novels.

I definitely think Dead to Me deserves five stars. The only thing I wish had been different were Alice and Annie’s names – I kept confusing them for each other while I was reading, which I don’t think would have happened if their names weren’t so similar. It’s a minor complaint, though, and I hope Mary McCoy will make this into a series; I’d love to follow Alice and the rest of the characters through more adventures.

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