“A fearless and brutal look at friendships...you will laugh, rage, and mourn its loss when it’s over.” —Justina Ireland, New York Times bestselling author of Dread Nation
“Simultaneously hilarious and moving, weird and wonderful.” —Jeff Zentner, Morris Award–winning author of The Serpent King
Six Feet Under meets Pushing Daisies in this quirky, heartfelt story about two teens who are granted extra time to resolve what was left unfinished after one of them suddenly dies.
A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.
Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.
As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.
Critically acclaimed author Shaun Hutchinson delivers another wholly unique novel blending the real and surreal while reminding all of us what it is to love someone through and around our faults.
Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, At the Edge of the Universe, and We Are the Ants. He also edited the anthologies Violent Ends and Feral Youth and wrote the memoir Brave Face, which chronicles his struggles with depression and coming out during his teenage years. He lives in Seattle, where he enjoys drinking coffee, yelling at the TV, and eating cake. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com or on Twitter @ShaunieDarko.
Read an Excerpt
The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried
I DON’T WANT TO BE here. Spending the afternoon collecting trash on the beach isn’t how I wanted to spend one, or any, of my summer days. I could be sleeping or working at a job that pays me or reading or smack-talking some random kid while I kick his butt at Paradox Legion online. Instead, I’m here. At the beach. Picking up beer cans and candy wrappers and ignoring the occasional used condom because there’s no way I’m touching that. Not even wearing gloves.
If you have sex on the beach, throw away your own goddamn condoms.
Sick of Picking Up Your Rubbers
I look up.
“Smile!” Rafi Merza snaps a picture of me with his phone, and I’m not fast enough to give him the finger.
Rafi shrugs and wraps his arm around my waist and slaps a kiss on my cheek. His carefully cultivated stubble scrubs my skin. Everything about Rafi is intentional and precise. His thick black hair swooped up and back to give it the illusion of messiness, his pink tank top to highlight his thick arms, the board shorts he thinks make his ass look good. He’s right; they do. It’s showing off. If I looked like Rafi, I’d want to flaunt it too. Thankfully there’s an underlying insecurity to his vanity that keeps it from slipping across the border into narcissism.
“I’m fine,” I say. “People need to worry about themselves.” I point down the beach at Dafne and Jamal, who’re poking at a gelatinous mass in the sand. “I hope they know jellyfish can still sting even when they’re dead.”
“They’ll find out one way or another.” Rafi has a hint of an accent that sounds vaguely British with weird New England undertones, which makes sense since his dad’s from Boston and his mom’s from Pakistan by way of London.
“And I’ll keep my phone out just in case,” I say.
“To call the paramedics?”
“To record them getting stung.”
Rafi pulls away from me. “Sure, because there’s nothing funnier than someone else’s pain.”
“They’re playing with a jellyfish, not a live grenade.”
He nudges me and I catch my reflection in his sunglasses. My enormous bobble head and long nose and I don’t even know what the hell’s going on with my hair. “No one dragged you out here—”
“You showed up at my house at dawn with coffee and doughnuts,” I say. “You know I can’t resist doughnuts.”
Rafi tries to take my hand, but I shake free. “I get that today’s difficult for you, Dino—”
“I’m here for you.” Rafi raises his shades, giving me the amber-eyed puppy dog stare that snared me from across an Apple store a year ago. “If you want, we can take off and go somewhere to talk.”
Looking across the beach and then into Rafi’s eyes makes the offer so tempting that I go so far as to open my mouth to say yes. But then I don’t. “July Cooper is dead. Talking won’t change it.” I kick the wet sand, sending a clod flying toward the water. “Besides, we weren’t even friends.”
Rafi leans his forehead against mine. He’s a little shorter than me, so I have to bend down a bit. “I’m your friend, right?”
“Of course you are.”
“And so are they.” He doesn’t have to motion to them for me to know he’s talking about everyone else who’s out here with us on a summer day cleaning the beach. The kids from the community center: Kandis and Jamal and Charlie and Dafne and Leon. “They’re your family.”
“I’ve got a family,” I say.
Rafi kisses me softly. His lips barely graze mine, and still I flinch from the public display, but if Rafi notices, he doesn’t mention it. “That’s the family you were born into. We’re the family you chose.”
There’s a moment where I feel like Rafi expects me to say something or that there’s something he’s trying to say. It charges the air between us like we’re the two poles of a Jacob’s ladder. But either I imagined it or the moment passes, because Rafi steps away and starts walking down the shore, linking his first finger through mine and pulling me along with him.
The sun beats on us as we keep working to clean the beach. It’s an impossible task but still worthwhile. My arms and legs are pink, and I have to stop to apply more sunscreen. I try to convince Rafi to put some on too, but he claims it defeats the purpose of summer. I’m kind of jealous of the way Rafi’s skin turns a rich brown in the sun rather than a crispy red like mine.
“Don’t forget about the party tonight,” Rafi says as he rubs sunscreen into my back.
“It’s not actually a party. The gang, pizza, pool, movies. Nothing too exciting.”
My whole body tenses, and Rafi must feel it because he stops rubbing. “You don’t have to come. I thought it’d be better than sitting home alone.”
“The funeral’s tomorrow, so I should probably—”
“I get it—”
“It’s not that I don’t want to see you—”
“Of course, of course.”
This time there’s no electricity in the silence. No expectation. Instead, it’s a void. A chasm growing wider with each passing second. I know I should throw Rafi a line before the distance between us expands too far, but I don’t know what to say.
“My offer stands,” Rafi says.
I sigh heavily without meaning to. “If I change my mind about the party—”
“Not the party. The funeral. If you want me to go with you, I will.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Have you ever seen me in my black suit?” he asks. “I look like James Bond. But, you know, browner.”
I can’t help laughing because it’s impossible to tell whether Rafi’s bragging or begging for compliments. “While the thought of you doing your best sexy secret agent impersonation is tempting, I think I need to go to the funeral alone.”
Rafi squeezes my shoulders and says, “Yeah, okay,” before finishing with the sunscreen. Funerals are awful, especially if you don’t know the person who’s died, but I can’t help feeling like Rafi’s disappointed.
“Come on,” I say. “I probably need to get home soon.” I pull Rafi the way he pulled me earlier, but instead of following, he digs his feet into the sand. His lips are turned down, and he’s looking at the ground instead of at my face.
I covertly glance around to make sure no one’s watching, and then I brush his cheek with my thumb and kiss him. “Fine. I’ll consider coming tonight.”
Rafi’s face brightens immediately. He goes from pouty lips to dimples and smiles in under a second. “Really?”
“Maybe,” I say.
“Maybe closer to yes or maybe closer to no?”
This time when I kiss him, I don’t care if we’ve got an audience. “Maybe if you agree to go with me to Kennedy Space Center before the end of the summer, I’ll think real hard about making an appearance.”
Rafi turns up his nose. “But I went there in middle school, and it’s so boring.”
“Compromise is the price you pay for being my boyfriend.”
“Fine.” Rafi rolls his eyes dramatically. “But this relationship is getting pretty expensive.”
“You’re rich. You can afford it.” I grab his hand. “Now, let’s get out of here before I change my mind.”
Seventeen-year-olds Dino DeLuca and July Cooper have been ex–best friends for a year. Prior to that, they barely have any memories that the other isn’t a part of. So when July suddenly dies of an aneurysm, Dino is left with a multitude of mixed feelings. Fortunately—or unfortunately—Dino and July have another chance to work out their complicated relationship when July sits up on the metal table in the DeLuca and Son’s mortuary.
1. List the reasons Dino both hates and misses July. Why do you think it’s possible to have conflicting feelings toward someone who knows you best? Have you experienced complicated friendships or relationships like Dino and July? What advice would you give Dino?
2. What do Dino’s parents expect of him? Why do you think Dino has continued to work in the morgue even though he’s not passionate about it? Why do his parents refuse to believe him when he tells them he doesn’t want to follow in their footsteps? What do your parents expect of you? How are parental expectations harmful? How are they beneficial?
3. In Dee’s bedroom, her clothes are sorted by type and color. Rafi’s room has dirty clothes, comic books, computer parts, and other objects littering the floor. What does someone’s room say about them? What does your room say about you? Do you think your room reflects who you are? Where do you feel most like yourself? Are there both people and places that make you feel that way?
4. Dino considers his older sibling Dee to be perfect. July has a younger sister who “barely registers” because her older sister feels larger than life. Think about the people in your life: classmates, siblings, friends, relatives, members of your community. How do you view them? Do you think there are things they haven’t shared with you? Do you think you ever categorize or stereotype them, or make assumptions? How could you get to know them better? Do you think people ever misunderstand you? How can you be better about making your views, preferences, and personality known?
5. What physical differences does July experience because her body is a corpse? How does her physical decline affect the plot? Do you think it affects Dino and July’s relationship?
6. Do you agree or disagree with July’s decision not to go see her family? Explain your answer. What would you choose to do if you were in her shoes? What would you want if you were her family? Do you think there’s an opportunity for closure?
7. Compare and contrast Dino and July. After reviewing your list, why do you think they were best friends? Do you think they had more of a positive or a negative influence on each other? What qualities do you value in a friend? What signs might point to a toxic friendship? Do you consider the length of a friendship to be a big factor in choosing whether or not to remain close? Have your friendships changed growing up? Are there any friendships you wish you had a second chance to fix? Explain your answer.
8. In what ways has Dino changed since he met Rafi? How does Rafi encourage Dino in ways that July may have neglected? Why is Dino so conflicted about having the two meet? What realization does he come to when he considers this?
9. How might the plot of this story change if it had been written in the 1990s before smart phones?
10. Describe the situation that ends with Kandis saying, “Then those jokes don’t belong to you.” Why do you think Rafi’s friends are so bothered by July’s attempt at humor? Why do you think July thought it was okay to make those jokes? Do you think someone laughing along with you automatically means they appreciate your joke? Why might it be difficult for someone to speak up about what they find offensive, especially in the context of a larger group? Do you think it’s your responsibility to be sensitive to other identities and cultures?
11. What does Rafi try to show Dino about family and belonging while they’re cleaning the beach with other kids from the community center? Think about interactions you see between Rafi and his friends throughout the novel; how do you know they respect and understand each other? Compare and contrast relationships between Rafi and his friends with Dino and July’s relationship. What might Dino and July be able to learn from Rafi’s group? What does Rafi try to make Dino see about himself?
12. What does July learn when she’s pretending to be Roxy? Why can putting on a persona help people deal with issues or situations? What are some of the problems that can arise from pretending to be someone else? Do you think July knows who she is with Dino and without Dino? Do you think she’s as comfortable with herself and her decisions as she first appears to be?
13. Why are Dino and July no longer friends when the book begins? By the end of the book, whose fault do you think that is? Do you think Dino and July know each other as well as they think they do? Why can it become problematic to make assumptions for someone you know well, or to only let one person get close to you? What kind of sacrifices would you make for your friends? Do you feel you can be honest with them? Do you think best friends should always be truthful?
14. Explain how Dino and July reach a new understanding of one another. Why do you think they struggled so much to communicate when July was alive? Do you think knowing July might not have much time left contributed to their desire for reconciliation? Do you think both Dino and July are at peace with how they left things?
15. What is your definition of romantic love? How does Rafi know he is in love with Dino? Why does Dee believe that she is in love with Theo? Why can it be difficult to express how we feel about one another? What are the similarities and differences between romantic love and the love of a close friend? Do you believe you need friendship to build a strong relationship? Why can it be difficult when a close friend begins a relationship? Think about the dynamic between July and Dino, and Dino’s hesitation with Rafi.
16. Why do you think no one else dies after July comes back from the dead? What does the novel say about death and dying? Why do you think the author chose to inject humor into the topic?
17. Do you agree with the title? Should the past stay buried? Explain your answer. How might Dino’s life have progressed if he hadn’t had the chance to repair things with July?
1. One of the repeating images in this novel is boxes. As a class, discuss the following quotes and situations from the story:
“People, like cats, are obsessed with boxes.”
“But once we stuff someone into a box, what’s on the inside no longer matters.”
“We box reality up and hide it in some distant corner of our minds like a bomb on a timer we’ll be forced to confront one way or another.”
Rafi brings Dino a box celebrating their relationship.
Coffins are boxes.
Then write an essay about boxes you see in your life or community, and how they make you feel. Do you ever unintentionally or intentionally box others in? How can you prevent or avoid doing this in the future? Reflect on the class discussion: Did anything anyone said make you view yourself or others differently? Did the conversation change the way you feel about any of the events in the novel?
2. July chooses to write e-mails for Dino to send to her family. Write a note to someone in your life whom you’ve wronged or whom you haven’t been completely honest with, and explain how you feel or what you’re sorry for. What can you do to open a conversation? Make sure you include questions for them, and ideas you can both reflect on. How long did it take you to write the letter? How did it make you feel? Why can it be easier to write to someone instead of speak face-to-face? Why do you think July chose to leave her family notes instead of talking to them one last time?
3. Make a list of ten activities that make the world a better place, like cleaning up a beach or starting a community center. Then make a list of ten purely fun activities, like going to Disneyland. Out of the twenty items on your lists, circle the top five activities that you would choose to do. What do your choices say about you? Do you think July’s and Dino’s lists would look different at the beginning of the book versus the end? What kind of perspective did July’s death give them on life? Does thinking about this change any of your choices?
4. There are many funny, intense, and strange conversations in the novel. Choose one of your favorite scenes and find a friend or two to perform a readers’ theatre version in front of your classmates. Then, as a class, choose one scene for multiple groups to perform. How do different inflections change your interpretation of the book, or your appreciation for the characters?
Guide inspired by Shari Conradson, an English, drama, and history teacher in California.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
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