From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 8 Up After the death of her best friend, Cass finds herself questioning her own identity, sexuality, and place in the high school hierarchy. Before she died, Julia had been working on a top-secret project: a musical called Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad
. Now that she is gone, her boyfriend, Oliver, and her other theater friends are determined to stage the show as a tribute. Cass is committed to helping backstage, building spectacular traps and weapons until Heather, Cass's middle school nemesis, is cast as the female lead. Heather was the first person to tease Cass about her close friendship with Julia and suggest that Cass wanted it to be something more, and since Julia's death, Oliver has been making barbed remarks, as well. In the face of these complications, Cass sets off on a quest of her own: biking cross-country to take Julia's ashes to California. She tells herself that she is not running away from Oliver's hostility, Julia's friends' cold shoulders, or Heather's disconcerting new niceness. The journey helps her discover things she never knew about herself, and when she finds herself at rock bottom, she learns that Julia's friends are her friends, too. This funny, touching, and sweet coming-of-age story explores serious themes in a fresh way. Cass's tentative questioning of her own sexuality and her hesitant approach toward her first serious romantic relationship will delight readers who struggle with similar issues, as well as those who simply enjoy a well-crafted story. Misti Tidman, Boyd County Public Library, Ashland, KY
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Sixteen-year-old Cass Meyer's best friend, Julia, is killed in a car accident, leaving behind a special project: an original musical entitled Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad. Cass' grief is complicated by her never-stated and unrequited crush on Julia, and the fact that popular and pretty Heather Graham, who teased Cass mercilessly in middle school by calling her “dyke,” gets the lead in Julia's play. Horner cleverly separates the action into two parallel plots—one occurring during Cass' summer solo bike ride from Illinois to California with Julia's ashes, the other during senior year and the push to stage the musical. Cass is a fascinating and believable character, a Quaker and committed cyclist incredibly competent in matters mechanical and awkwardly inept in matters of the heart. When Heather comes out to Cass and initiates a relationship, it rings true to have the most homophobic person be gay herself. As in John Green's Looking for Alaska (2005) and Nina LaCour's Hold Still (2009), Horner sensitively explores the hole left behind when we lose someone, and the slow emergence from grief that follows. Grades 9-12. --Debbie Carton