Please read this insanely sad book (yes it will make you cry) (Books Before Boys review)

Content Disclaimer: This review addresses potentially plot points in a book, including death and grief.

In all honesty, as I read this book and now write this review, I am currently suffering from the worst cold I have had since 2019 (it turns out wearing the mask works). So forgive me if I say something about Dante Medema’s charming second novel, “Message Not Found”, is totally inconsistent, but I think I would also be inconsistent if I was perfectly fine because… wow.

Bailey and Vanessa are best friends, as close as sisters and absolutely inseparable. And then one night, during the snowy Alaskan winter, Vanessa dies in a car accident. In a moment of grief, Bailey decides to bring Vanessa back to life as a chatbot, uploading texts, emails and social media posts to a program she steals from her computer scientist mother’s hard drive. But as Bailey continues to talk to this fake-Vanessa, as well as her other friends from school, she begins to realize that there may have been more to Vanessa’s death than there is. originally thought so.

Now, I am perhaps one of the worst people to assess the accuracy of this book, because I am not from Alaska, I have never experienced the death of a loved one, and I hardly know nothing to artificial intelligence. But I have lost friendships before – luckily they are all still alive – and I can tell you with absolute confidence that Medema portrays the enduring love for a lost friend and the sharpness of betrayal in an amazing way.

I skimmed through this book, trying to understand the mystery of Vanessa’s death, haunted by Bailey’s grief and fascinated by the intertwined relationships between the characters in this book. The novel is much shorter than it looks thanks to the many SMS conversations that take place throughout, which I also enjoyed in Dante’s first book, “The Truth Project”, although this book was told in verse rather than prose.

Overall, this book was incredibly gripping and tragic, but it leaves you with a sense of hope at the end, and I think that has become a hallmark of Dante Medema’s work. When you pull back the layers of real life drama, you find so many nuanced emotions that it sums it up so well. I look forward to hearing more about his future projects.

And the last thing I’ll say is you shouldn’t read “Message Not Found” while you’re sick, because between blowing your nose and crying you’ll be using a lot of tissues. (Warning, I didn’t really cry, but I was reading in a public space, so I really had to hold back.)

“Message Not Found” is released on March 29, 2022 from Quill Tree Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. I received a copy of the author’s review with no real expectation of a review – we’re just TikTok mutuals, and he’s a very kind soul.

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