Book Review: Half in Love with Death by Emily Ross

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Title: Half in Love with Death
Author: Emily Ross
Publisher: Merit Press
Release Date: December 16, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult



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Half in Love with DeathHalf in Love with Death
Emily Ross
Merit Press, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-8903-4

From the publisher—

It’s the era of peace and love in the 1960s, but nothing is peaceful in Caroline’s life. Since her beautiful older sister disappeared, fifteen-year-old Caroline might as well have disappeared too. She’s invisible to her parents, who can’t stop blaming each other. The police keep following up on leads even Caroline knows are foolish. The only one who seems to care about her is Tony, her sister’s older boyfriend, who soothes Caroline’s desperate heart every time he turns his magical blue eyes on her.

Tony is convinced that the answer to Jess’s disappearance is in California, the land of endless summer, among the runaways and flower children. Come with me, Tony says to Caroline, and we’ll find her together. Tony is so loving, and all he cares about is bringing Jess home. And so Caroline follows, and closes a door behind her that may never open again.

Inspired by the disturbing case of Charles Schmid, ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson’, Half in Love with Death is a heartfelt thriller that never lets up.

To lose a sibling at any age and under any circumstances is painful but how terrible it must be when you’re a teen and no one knows what happened to your sister. I watch a lot of crime shows on the ID channel and I’m particularly struck by the stories of the “Disappeared”. There’s so much left hanging and no real resolution until the missing loved one is found either alive or dead and teens and younger children must be especially bewildered by this world they thought was safe.

When Caroline’s sister is lost, her parents don’t exactly feel less love for her; it’s just that they’re consumed by their grief and fear and their need to place blame. As you might expect, they all turn inwards and fail to comfort each other as much as they could, creating the perfect chance for Jess’s boyfriend, Tony, to step in to Caroline’s life with promises that, together, they can find Jess. It’s hardly surprising that Caroline would be drawn to this man but her inexperience and innocence, her desperation to find her sister and her near-abandonment by her parents blind her to Tony’s true nature.

Much of what happens in this novel would be unlikely today with our much-heightened sense of the evil that exists in the world but the 60’s were a more innocent time with thoughts of peace and love for one another and just general trust mixed in with our acute awareness of war and the atrocities that go with it. Sure, there was evil then, too, but it just did not have the same pervasiveness as today and, let’s face it, many of us believed in an Ozzie and Harriet universe. I did quite a few things as a teen that would give me heart seizures now if my 20-something grandson did them, much less a teenaged daughter. It’s that difference in how we see things now that makes Half in Love with Death such a powerful novel even though the story itself is pretty predictable.

Caroline herself is painfully naive, more so than any 15-year-old I knew back then, but her family is unusually dysfunctional and it’s clear she’s struggling to find her own way. As much as I wanted to shake some sense into her and, sometimes, I really didn’t think she had a brain, I also liked her and wanted her to find some comfort. The journey toward that hope kept me reading until the end and, predictable or not, I enjoyed the trip.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

About the Author

Emily RossEmily Ross’s YA mystery/thriller HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH is forthcoming from Merit Press(12/2015). She received a 2014 MCC Artist Fellowship finalist award for fiction, and is a graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program. When not writing she works as a web developer and is the mother of two millennials. Find out more at or

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