Rebecca James Allen & Unwin Published 1st October 2014 Gifted by my friend Tessa, via Allen & Unwin
It just so happened that my wonderful friend Tessa somehow ended up with two copies of Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead, which meant I ended up with an awesome advanced copy, which flew with me to Sydney. I’d had other books to read so it took me a few weeks to get around to it and I really wish I’d just listened to Tessa and started it as soon as I got it!
Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead is written in both present and past tense (‘then’ and ‘now’), from four perspectives (Cooper, Libby, Claire and Sebastian) in both first and third person. Doesn’t that just sound crazy and really ambitious? You just wouldn’t think it would work but here’s the thing – it totally does. I don’t know how she managed it, but through all the changes in tense and perspective, Cooper Bartholomew’s world comes alive.
Cooper is found dead at the bottom of a cliff and the verdict is suicide. But his girlfriend Libby knows that he was happy, that they were in love and making plans for the future. She does not believe he would kill himself. Cooper’s friends Sebastian and Claire accept the verdict, though it damages each of them in a different way. So the question hangs over them all – was Cooper’s death really an accident?
Through the changing tenses and perspectives we get a clear view of who the four friends are and who they are to each other, and slowly we find out what really happened that night. One of my favourite things about this book was the fact that it’s Australian and the protagonists were university aged students and their lives were, in some respects, typically Australian. Not the stereotypic outback Australian or the yobbo Australian (although these do exist and I love them just the same!), but your average, suburban dwelling Australians. Not everyone goes to university here, it’s not expected like it is in other countries, and that is portrayed alongside those who do go to university. High school friends stay in touch, especially when everyone lives in the same area still. Friendships, betrayal, love and hurt are also portrayed well and the fact that we are no longer kids or teenagers but reaching our twenties and still working all this stuff out. I also liked Libby’s own little jab at her Arts degree! All the characters seem like people I know or could know, in a world that is definitely a bit like mine!
I have sighed and somewhat rolled my eyes, reading the reviews prior to reading this book, where everyone has said that they fell in love with Cooper and were devastated when he died – I mean come on the title is called Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead. The one thing we know is that he IS dead. But I couldn’t help it. I got attached and bawled my eyes out, particularly once I finished. I absolutely sobbed. As much as I liked Cooper though, and loved his sweet relationship with Libby, I think the person I cried more for was Libby. How bloody difficult to have your first love ripped away from you in such a brutal manner. How do you even get over something that like? And everything that could have been (I made a similar observation in my review of Belzhar, with a slightly younger protagonist, although the situations turned out to be very different). I cried for her and what she lost, as well as the fact that Cooper, who I adored, was gone. In that sense, this book is about not just the mystery of what happened to Cooper, though that did keep my heart pounding especially as we got closer to the end (see my tweet!) but also about accepting loss and responsibility, dealing with grief and the beauty and pain that love can bring.
This book has been heavily marketed as a YA, though I’m not sure I would call it that. Mainly because the characters are in university, not high school, which seems to be a defining factor, and there is also drug and sexual content, so I would consider it aimed at a more mature audience (though I’m sure some YAs will enjoy this book!) but please keep that in mind if that’s not your thing! As a reader the same age as the characters though, I really enjoyed this book and was very glad that my boyfriend was there to wrap me up in a hug as I sobbed over the ending (I’m just a wuss)!
See my review for Rebecca James’ previous book, Sweet Damage, here.