Grieving the loss of her online boyfriend Jonah, Tess drops out of high school and moves in with her dad, who runs a funeral business. It turns out Tess is quite good at being his assistant and together they struggle to make sense of what life has thrown at them. Was Jonah who he claimed to be? Was Tess really in love with him, or just the idea of him?
By turns poignant, funny and thought-provoking, Peter Bognanni’s novel examines many of the large life questions that bother teenagers and adults alike. He looks at teenage love, suicide, loss, grief, separation, the online life and how it clashes with the real life.
Each of these questions is a significant topic on its own, and it may be overstretching the narrative to include them all in the one story. This makes the beginning of the book a bit confusing, but if you can hold out for a few chapters, it does lure you in and you start to believe in, and care about, the characters.
Using the trick of the disembodied voice of the internet, Bognanni also explores the concept of the anonymity of electronic communication and whether we can really know someone through online interaction alone.
A couple of things might jar with the YA audience – the author mentions Old Spice in terms of evocative scents, but this hasn’t been an evocative scent since the 60s and 70s. Likewise, mentioning 80s movies jars with the contemporary timeline, but these are minor quibbles.
Like life itself, there are no cut and dried answers to the protagonist’s questions, but the narrative is the journey to some sort of resolutions. The narrative, like life, is not perfect, but it’s worth the trip.