Given that I love Shaun David Hutchinson’s work, I was super excited when I heard that he was releasing a new novel. I was doubly excited when I heard that it was about the dead who won’t stay buried. I recall reading a blurb where this book as described as “Six Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies” and I was immediately hooked given that I loved both of these shows (Six Feet Under follows a family who owns a funeral home; Pushing Up Daisies follows a pie maker who can bring people from the dead with just a touch — and return them back to the dead permanently with a second touch).
The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried takes place over the course of two days and follows a young man named Dino whose parents own a funeral home business so being around the dead is nothing new for him. What is new, is the dead coming back to life. As it turns out, Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly, and Dino is trying to work through his grief at her passing. He always believed that eventually, they would find each other again and renew their friendship. But now, it was too late for that, and we begin to see Dino’s regret at all those words that now, will never be said.
Where The Dead Don’t Stay Dead
Dino is alone in the basement with July’s body, working on her makeup in preparation for the funeral — his way of saying his final goodbye — when suddenly she comes back to life. Well, not to life exactly. She’s conscious, sentient but her body is still dead: no heartbeat, no breather and given that she had just recently undergone an autopsy, it’s unlikely that any of her organs are working either.
What follows is Dino and July’s attempt to figure out what’s happening to her, all while rehashing their former friendship, each blaming the other for its end.
Dino and July
It was fun seeing Dino and July rushing around town trying to solve the mystery of July’s reawakening, positive that she could return to her dead state at any moment. They also revisited their friendship — over and over — and in so doing, discovered that they were both to blame and that there were a lot of things in their past they both left unsaid when they should have spoken up.
I thought this illustrated nicely the ups and downs of friendship and just how complicated those relationships can be. I thought it was also a gentle reminder that the time to mend a damaged relationship is now because we may not be as fortunate as Dine and July were in receiving a second chance.
Race Against The Clock
As Dino and July soon discover, they do not have the luxury of time to slowly figure out what’s happening with July. Though July’s death may have ended, her decomposition has not which means she’s not smelling as fresh as she once was. When people around them begin to comment on the stench, they both realize that their time is limited. Moreover, it turns out that July’s resurrection has had a ripple effect throughout the world and has affected the natural course of life and death.
The beating heart at the center of this book is the friendship between July and Dino, and I thought that the author handled it exceptionally well. It was fun seeing them as they bickered with each other over petty annoyances, dug up old hurts and released old anger and resentments. But additionally, they also joked around and ended us rediscovering the joy of their friendship.
I also liked the fact that it wasn’t only one of them who was at fault but rather, they both were responsible for the break in the friendship. So in this way, we got to take a look at the idea of unfinished business but from both sides as they both begin to realize that it’s those you love who end up hurting you the most — and vice-versa.
It was also refreshing to see a male and female friendship that didn’t end in love or where one of the two was agonizingly pining for the other.
July and Dino’s Characters
I thought that July and Dino with wonderfully complex, vivid and empathetic characters and felt their characterization was especially powerful. The author did an excellent job of bringing these two to life in all of their complexities, faults, flaws, and imperfections, making them someone the reader could easily relate to (or at least I could).
I thought July is a terrific character. She’s multi-layered, flawed, impulsive, and once we move past her harsh exterior, we see that she is also insecure and deeply hurt by the loss of Dino’s friendship. Though she comes across of self-centered and bitter, we see another side of her unfold as the novel progresses and we begin to understand the reason behind some of her actions. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her character by the end of the story.
I found Dino to be well-crafted, awkward but an endearing character and I loved how loyal he was to July — and how willing he was to help her even though their friendship had ended badly. He ended up being quite a complicated character who, though he thought he was self-confident and knew what he wanted, really was just as insecure as the rest of us. This was especially evident in his relationship with his trans boyfriend Rafi as he navigated the ups, downs, and uncertainties of their relationship in addition to confronting some hidden truths about himself in that process.
I liked how the story was told from alternating points of view, allowing us to get an in-depth peek at what was going on inside of their head. This really helped me to more deeply understand their feelings and motivations, making them all the more relatable and all the more real.
I thought this was a lovely heartfelt novel about two teens who were given a little extra time to resolve the unfinished business that was left between them. I loved that fact that it was up to the reader to determine just whose unfinished business caused July’s return.
I loved how this dark and somewhat grim situation is lightened by realistic dialogue and genuineness of feeling between our two main characters, and the witty banter and shenanigans made this a joy to read. The quirky and crazy plot in this story was kept steady by the realism and the truth of the situation; this is, of the grief of losing a friend with so much unsaid still left between you.
As usual, Mr. Hutchinson did not disappoint, and I ended up loving this tender story which held me in rapt attention from start to finish. It was a story with The emotional depth and plenty of heart, and I became so emotionally invested by the end of the book that I felt as though I were saying goodbye to close friends.
This book is set to be released in February 19, 2019 but it available now for pre-order.
A huge thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.