Book Review: How To Date Dead Guys

How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How to Date Dead Guys is about Emma, a nerdy college girl who has problems fitting in because she’s always had a connection to spirits. When her crush drowns, Emma is over come with guilt, and she’ll do anything to get him back, including summoning him from beyond the grave. However, it’s not Mike that comes back, but Sam, a boy who killed himself the semester before. The story gets more complex, yet remains fun, as more people come back from the dead. Emma has to find a way to put them to rest while overcoming her own guilt over Mike’s death.

The call kidnaps Emma and Chrissy gives her a makeover. If you like Ghost World (the movie), you’ll love the tone and feel of this book. Early on, we meet a pioneer spirit girl and a chem TA who dropped in the river by the local college. The river becomes a major set piece in the novel, and it works unusual elements of horror into the story.

Let’s talk about Emma. She’s a complicated person, and she can often come off as an ice queen. However, you understand the emotional turmoil she deals with in her life, which humanizes her. Also, Emma is a biology and math major, which is comp bio, and it’s a great major. I personally related to Emma’s realization that she didn’t want to be a doctor, too. There’s so much humanness to Emma, and it pulls you into the story. This is necessary because the story lacked a solid villain, but the emotional conflicts between characters drove the plot well.

There are plenty of fun scenes in this story, which adds to the complexity of the world. Emma has 100% less fun than I did at house parties in college, where she meets her crush, Mike. The early part of this novel focuses on Emma and her relationship to her roommate, Chrissy, and a pair of brothers, Mike and Kevin. Mike is the guy whom Emma likes, and she attends his 21st birthday party, where Mike gets predictably shit-faced, and he wants to go for a swim in the river.

The story takes a turn for the dark here. Mike drowns in the river, kicking off the main plot of the novel. Through coincidence, Emma finds a grimoire, and her guilt drives her to attempt to bring Mike back to life. Emma becomes a de facto villain during this part of the story, and that’s kind of amazing.

Things don’t go as Emma planned, and Sam, the chem TA comes back from the river instead. There’s a murder mystery plot that begins to exist here, and Emma learns that loads of other people have drowned in this river. The book continues to veer into dark plot themes, and we find that Sam killed himself. Emma now has to help Sam deal with the baggage of his previous life with getting into med school, leaving his mom, and getting rejected by the girl he was obsessed with. Sam is a quintessential NiceGuy in some ways, but my strong dislike for automatically slotting ‘popular, pretty’ characters in as default villains vexed me. The characters are still strong, and we get introduced to Abby, a young woman who’s pregnant. I expected Abby’s baby daddy plot to factor into the story, and boy, does it ever, but the twist in that plot line is natural.

Sam is taken back to the river, and we get introduced to Jake next. Emma becomes a necromancer version of Touched By an Angel, and she has to help Jake with his personal struggles, too. The section with Jake starts weak, but it became my favorite part of the book. Jake and Emma’s relationship became a major emotional set piece, and it pays off by climaxing in a mid-book Christmas arc. (“It’s Christmas” will always get you drunker than you’d think.)

Setting anything around Christmas automatically makes it a hundred percent sadder, and the story hammers an emotional moment per page during this section. Jake visits his family, and the tension between Emma and Jake reaches a breaking point. Then, the magic yanks Jake away, and Mike returns, but not alone. Two other spirits return with Mike, and the remainder of the novel follows the same format of Emma unraveling their own pains and secret pasts. The story resolves most of its plot lines, and even though it’s the first in the series, the plots resolve themselves.

Random Notes:

  • Every guy who plays Frisbee is named Mike.
  • Some of get As and have belly rings. Just saying.
  • When your bf, here Chrissy, tells your crush how rich your family is, you need to find a new best friend.
  • The novels don’t mention abortion as an option when it totally is. This is my only real complaint with Abby’s story line is that this option is completely ignored. Maybe the author didn’t want to go there, but when a young woman doesn’t have a baby and getting rid of the baby isn’t seriously discussed, it’s an irksome oversight in plot to me. In this story, where every character has emotionally driven motives, Abby never considering abortion or at least objecting to it for an emotional reason stands out as a strange oversight.
  • The dead men shed an ectoplasm skin, which is a great piece of horror.
  • Emma, the NiceGuy apologetic, rears her head several times.
  • There’s an 80s movie prank montage! I’m a bit picky about Nostalgia because it usually says more about the author than the characters, but it works here.

Rating: 4 stars

The story had light-hearted dialogue, but it veers into dark territory. There’s a lot of emotional angst here, but the characters stay grounded. This is a great start to a unique paranormal YA fantasy.

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