John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

Hilda and Benji are not your average LA teenagers. Instead of hanging out at the beach or various Hollywood hot spots in hopes of a celebrity sighting, the pair are content to spend their summer vacation visiting celebrity murder or suicide sites. While in search of the apartment of a lesser known silent film star who stabbed himself to death while at home, Hilda and Benji stumble upon the old and reclusive Hank, now living in the infamous apartment. Hank is cranky and wary of the pair but Hilda sees something unique and is worried about the paranoid old man who won't leave his stifling hot apartment. Soon Hilda is doing everything she can to escape the attention of Benji (who is becoming more creepy and sadistic daily) while finding any excuse to watch old movies or discuss the past with Hank.

Thinking she is the only one who cares about Hank, Hilda is surprised to find Hank's apartment empty one day except for Hank's handsome downstairs neighbor, a 19 year-old screenwriter named Jake. Jake couldn't be more unlike Hilda - successful, driven, fashion conscious - but she still finds herself wanting to spend more time with him even as he is convinced that Hank is hiding some terrible, sinister secret. A secret Hilda suspects but one she can't decide if she wants to know or not.

John Belushi is Dead is a singularly unique and at times almost disturbing dark novel. Kathy Charles has crafted a truly compelling book with many unpredictable twists - and some you can guess right away, but are still powerless to stop. What really makes this book a stand-out are the starkly real characters. Hilda is confused and intent on shutting off the rest of the world until Hank (and Jake) force her to open her eyes to life happening all around her. And then Benji - one scary dude - whose obsession with death seems so darkly  real yet utterly separate from Hilda's resigned fascination with the same subject. Not to mention the cantankerous and paranoid Hank, who has countless stories of old Hollywood to tell. I cannot express to you how thrilled I was to see an old man featured in a YA novel (at least one that wasn't overly sugar-sweet) and he plays his role beautifully. The emotions and dialogue are fresh and even if the constant stories of murder are at times a little much, they definitely added to the story in terms of mood and ambiance. Hilda's quiet yet forceful voice ensnares you from page one and her constant observations of friends, family, and death are irresistibly appealing. John Belushi is Dead is an edgy book with a unique voice and an outstanding cover. It's one you won't want to miss.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Country Bookshelf review
From the TBR Pile review
Persnickety Snark review
Prom Mafia review
Start Narrative Here review

book source: review copy from the publisher


Emily said...

Thanks for your review of this one. I thought this book was interesting the first time I saw it. But since then I've seen several places that list it as an adult title. Now I'm questioning whether I should get it for my teen room.

Any suggestions?

Michelle said...

Emily - It was first released in Australia as an adult book but here in the US it is being marketed as YA. I think it does appeal to a YA audience (although a more mature one to be sure) since the protagonists are teens and one old man. It does contain language and some gruesome details about death, but I would still give it to a teen to read because it does cover many pertinent issues concerning death and how 'that kid' can turn from just weird to a psycho. I'd be a compelling read for anyone who picks it up. Hope that helps. If you have more questions about content, feel free to email me.

Kathy Charles said...

Hi Michelle - thank you so much for such a thoughtful review!

Emily - even though the book was released as adult in Australia, it was shortlisted for a prestigious YA writing prize (NSW Premier's Literary Award - Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Writing). It definitely fits into the 'crossover' category but was written for a YA audience. Hope this helps!

Rowena said...

Ooh great review, I'm itching to read this book so thanks for this! I'm stopping by from Chachic's book blog, where I read your Why I Love YA post...which was great as well!

Keep up the good work and happy reading!

Nomes said...

You wrote a really stunning review!

I want to read this, but am a little scared as sometimes edgy YA is not my thing :)


Michelle said...

Kathy - Thanks for stopping by! I did so enjoy Hilda and Hank.

Rowena - I'm glad you stopped in!

Nomes - Well, thank you. And I hear you, edgy is not always my cuppa either, but Charles did a nice job of balancing it with plenty of humor and wit. So it was good for me. I wonder what your opinion would be?