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Review: Pasadena

Pasadena - Sherri L. Smith

 

I received a copy through Penguin First to Read.

 

I loved this one. This is a gritty novel set in Los Angeles with one of the most unlikeable characters I have come across in a long time. It’s one of the rare cases where in spite of the fact that the main character Jude is an unapologetic bitch, her characterization is so good it works brilliantly and as a reader it didn’t even bother me how rude, bitchy and obnoxious this girl is. Usually I hate characters like this. But I still kind of liked this girl.

 

I can’t really say how well the noir homage was done as it’s not a genre I’m familiar with (I don’t think saying I saw LA Confidential once counts).

 

The novel tells the story of the sudden and unexpected death of Jude’s best friend Maggie. Set during summer in LA you really get a sense of the uncomfortable sticky heat of LA in high summer, with the tense atmosphere of the novel it was really visual and I could picture everything going on so clearly, like watching a TV show or a movie. Jude races back from her vacation at her dad’s house (her parents are divorced and she spends the school year in LA with her mom and mom’s string of less than reputable boyfriends). Her good friend Joey picks her up from the airport and the novel progresses from there.

 

Jude meets with some of Maggie’s other friends – just because they all knew Maggie and were friends with her doesn’t mean any of them like each other much. Jude is still in shock from this news – it’s pegged as suicide – Maggie is found floating face down in a pool with a glamorous swimsuit on. Jude’s convinced it’s murder. She’s flat out cruel to almost every other one of Maggie’s group of friends – Dane, Tally, Hank, Eppie, Edina, Luke. Dane and Tally are a couple as are Hank and Eppie.

 

Luke turns out to have a huge crush which boarders on flatout stalking. (Luke’s stalking/crush thing turns out to be a huge plot point that becomes very helpful in Jude’s investigation into Maggie’s death later on in the novel)/

 

Edina and Jude seem to be competing for the BFF spot, though Jude clearly thinks she’s the only one that counts and Edina is a hanger on wannabe and a poor excuse of a person. Most of these people are pretty awful with the exception of Joey (who was awesome) and Hank and Eppie, who were actually nice. Maggie managed to bring all these people together and make them feel special.

 

Maggie herself was rich and extremely popular and desired. Yet of course, had a cruel drama queen streak of her own. As Jude starts digging to the days before and up to Maggie’s death she stars digging into these people who knew Maggie in ways she didn’t. She begins learning some uncomfortable home truths. She speaks without thinking and doesn’t give a crap about what she’s saying or if it will hurt anyone’s feelings. Throughout it all Joey seems to be the only one who can tolerate Jude’s attitude problems enough to stand by. But even he has his limits. His strength to stick with Jude is pretty damn admirable.

 

Of course Jude has her own drama to deal with, digging into Maggie’s friends and her death brings up some uncomfortable home truths of her own she had long thought was buried and stuff she never really dealt with herself.

 

A really diverse cast of very well put together characters who were well fleshed out and believable even if most of them weren’t particularly likeable. Brilliant sense of place and setting, visually striking. It’s a brilliant mystery and completely unpredictable.