Review: Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

Title:  Deadly Cool

Author:  Gemma Halliday

Publisher:  Harper Teen

Series:  Deadly Cool #1

Other Reviews for this Author:  None

Sometimes, I honestly go into these things with low expectations.  I've had varied amounts of luck with Harper Teen's paperback originals.  Heather Terrell's Fallen Angel was fun but had tonal issues.  The Carrier of the Mark just wasn't for me.  Deadly Cool got mixed reviews like those two above, and I just wasn't sure what I was going to get out of it.  The general consensus seemed to show that Halliday had a humorous tone, and I was feeling up to the humor enough to give it a try.  I was not disappointed.  Deadly Cool may be a lighter read, but Gemma Halliday writes the teenage voice and humor with an alarming alacrity that will suck you in.

Boys can be assholes.  Hartley knows this, but she firmly believes that her boyfriend Josh isn't one.  At first, anyway.  He's nice to her and seems to respect her wishes not to have sex right away.  Hartley is a girl that needs more than lust in order to give it up, and finding a boy to respect that is hard.  Very hard.  Josh may very well be the one for Hartley.  Rumors persist that Josh is less than sanctimonious, though, and Hartley aims to find out if it's true or not.  What she discovers is more than shocking.  A leftover condom in Josh's locker - a condom that she had obviously never seen before - suggests that all of the rumors are true.  Josh was effing someone else.

The irony of Josh's transgression is all the worse.  Rumor persisted that Josh was having the affair with Courtney Cline, a color guard member and the president of the high school Chastity Club.  Hartley immediately decides to confront Josh after school, as he avoids every attempt at communication with her about the issue.  Hartley and her friend Sam drive to Josh's house after school in order to get the truth.  Josh's house is locked, but his car is waiting outside.  Believing that he has to be in there, Hartley and Sam perform an act of cat-burglary and sneak into his room via an open window lying above a shed.  Illegal?  Maybe, but Hartley has more pressing matters on her mind.

She doesn't find her ex-boyfriend in his bedroom, but something much worse.  Courtney Cline's dead body.  A pair of iPod headphones wrapped around her neck.  The clear sign of strangulation; a clear sign of murder.  Josh's notorious absence from the scene puts him in as the lead suspect, but Hartley dated him long enough to know that he would never be a murder.  At least, Hartley believes that Josh would never be a murderer.  The evidence seems stacked against him, and Hartley's instincts are the only things keeping Josh's arrest at bay (okay, so his going-into-hiding from the police helps, too).  With the help of Sam and a hot, brooding boy named Chase, Hartley becomes a sassier version of Nancy Drew in her attempts to figure out what really happened to Courtney.

Humorous protagonists are always a win for me.  How is it that a protagonist that can make you chuckle wins their way into your heart so easily?  I'm not sure, but it's safe to say that Hartley fits the bill.  Her humor is brash and crude the way teenage humor is - and being around it and participating in it every day, I can safely say that it feels authentic.  Hartley also has the benefit of being a strong heroine.  She has a purpose and sticks to it like nobody's business.  Yes, at times it can feel misguided and ridiculous because of the mystery-solving aspect, but Hartley makes it seem believable.  She's angry and frustrated with her ex-boyfriend, but the murder itself represents a key need for closure in her relationship with him.  This furthers Hartley's understandable conflicting feelings in regard to his cheating.  Anyone who has had a break-up with someone like that will understand the muddled emotions and how one can easily be unknowing to what they really feel.  Hartley is relative in this sense, and her emotional confusion makes sense.  One would like her to just kick Josh in the balls and be done with it, but I appreciated the realism and how Halliday made it feel genuine.  Hartley's strength as a character also keeps her from being pushed around, and her agency really made the story in this case.  The reader is easily invested in Hartley's mystery-solving plotline because they want to see her come out on top with her determination and skills.

As to the other characters, readers will find a suitable cast of people that remains interesting.  Hartley's boys are both interesting, and Halliday managed to incorporate both of them while making it clear that it wasn't a love-triangle situation.  Josh brings out many confusing feelings in Hartley.  He is pitiable in some ways because of his situation.  Yet the reader never forgets his cheating transgression, and Halliday manages to make him sympathetic while retaining a level of distance.  The reader never finds him attractive, and that keeps his true placement in the plot firmly in tact.  Chase, by contrast, is basically Halliday writing to the audience.  Chase is brooding and reads classic books, yet he is also sweet and the editor of the school newspaper.  But he's also ripped and wears black.  I say this because Chase is basically caught up in Hartley's plans, and the reader doesn't see his character as fully as they could.  We get a sense of his intelligence, impertinence, and all-around awesomeness, but his perfection was really all we got to see.  I did enjoy that his relationship with Hartley started out as something argumentative, though.  It happens a lot in romance, but not so much in YA.  I liked that they kind of despised each other for a good portion of the book, and the chemistry in their arguments was quite hot.

What astounded me about these characters and other sub-characters like Sam was how realistic they felt.  Yes, they tended towards the two-dimensional end because of the mystery focus, but they had realistic voices.  Halliday knows how to play up on the various tropes and stereotypes of high-school, though it's amusing in how they can seemingly be reversed.  In Halliday's high school setting, the color guard girls are the saints and the cheerleaders aren't so, but in high schools like mine, the reputations are either less defined or reversed completely.  She makes it funny, though, and I found it amusing that Halliday knew the workings of teenagers so well.  Everything read like a realistic look into the high school of today.  At times it shows itself as being a very difficult place for a portrayal of sexuality - every high school is like that, and it's awful - but for the most part I liked how she tackled it.  Hartley in particular isn't against sex, but she is very healthy in her want to have it in a healthy relationship.  She didn't come across as prudish or overzealous about it, and that worked in favor of the novel.  The dialogue in particular flowed with a sharp level of understanding, though I have heard some people comment on the use of "dude" between some of the characters.  I did notice it, but it didn't get on my nerves.  I found it to be overused in that regard - I don't know of any girls that say "dude" between each other - but I still hear it said today.

The plot of Deadly Cool is pretty self-explanatory.  Deadly Cool is a classic genre mystery for the YA set, and in that regard I found it interesting, too.  I read mysteries very rarely, and when I do they are usually something light ala Lillian Jackson Braun.  The fact of the matter is that I'm very bad with mysteries.  I second guess everything to the point where I can never actually see what's coming.  My judgement of this mystery is pretty much the same, although in this case I actually did see the solution coming.  Halliday does a fair job of leading the reader around for the first half of the novel, but as the threads start to come together it's not too hard to guess as to who the murderer really is.  The pieces don't take long to add up, and Deadly Cool doesn't  have a plethora of side characters to make the situation confusing - and the ones that are around can be written off fairly easily based on motivation, closeness, and the like.  Halliday still makes the mystery suspenseful, though, and I felt like it developed well enough to be entertaining.  It surprisingly worked well with the romance, and for the most part I found the ideas pretty ingenious.  Although using Myspace as a way for Josh and Hartley to communicate while avoiding the police?  The reasoning behind it was funny, but I questioned if it was true or not, as adults tend to be behind the times on social media.  If the police force is fairly ignorant as to what's going on, I would assume that would be one of the social media outlets they would check.  It was a minor issue, though, and belief was easily suspended for the story.

The ending of Deadly Cool was the only downside I found within the novel that really bugged me.  Hartley does in fact make a stupid decision at the end of the novel that results in someone else saving her life, and I thought her strengths as a character would have allowed her to at least succeed on her own...or be smarter.  The resulting effect of her actions involved romantic growth, but at that point I mainly felt disappointed that this strong heroine couldn't save the day on her own.  Hartley's intelligence managed to get her far enough in the mystery, and like any good sleuth we want her to be the one to save the day should the process get scary.  That was the most disappointing portion of the book for me, but it didn't ruin the reading experience by any means.  I just hope it doesn't become a pattern, in which case I will find more serious issue with it.  Strong characters like Hartley need to stay strong.  The other niggle was that Halliday pretty much purposefully took the swearing out of her book - probably at the bequest of the publisher, but still.  It's pretty obvious that Halliday is writing a realistic group of teenagers, and when they constantly say "eff" instead of the actual f-word, it comes across as an excuse purely fabricated to avoid that hardcore word.  I was humorous for the most part, but at times it took away from the intensity of the story and felt like an unrealistic point of verbal awareness when the word probably would have slipped out - pledge to stop swearing or not.

Readers will have mixed reactions to Deadly Cool.  This book is very much a fluffy read that is focused on giving the reader a good time.  I laughed - quite loudly, I might add - at many of the scenes and comments in this book.  It's hilarious.  Think an American Georgia Nicholson crossed with Nancy Drew.  The publisher compares it to the show Veronica Mars, which I have not watched, but from what I gather the comparison is not entirely mislead.  This book features a strong female protagonist, a surprising subtheme of sex in teenage relationships, and a light mystery plot that will keep you reading until the very end.  I found this book very hard to put down, and the problems that came to light after finishing it were mild and didn't diminish any of the fun I had while reading it.  I very much look forward to reading more of Halliday's work - both adult and young adult - and hope that she continues this theme of a realistic and snarky teen voice.  It's much too fun to let go.

Cover:  The creepy teen girl's face I could do without.  The eyes are striking but very unnatural.  The point, naturally, but not really my thing.  I love how the dead look and the headphones tie into the plot, though, and in that regard the cover actually makes sense.

Rating:  4.0  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thank you, Heather and Harper Teen!!)

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BookChic said...

I absolutely loved this book. Glad to hear you liked it too and there's another book coming in April. You should check out Halliday's adult mysteries in the meantime- they're just as good, if not better.