#30 “Cooper Bartholomew is Dead” by Rebecca James


  1. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  2. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  3. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  4. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  5. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  6. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  7. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  8. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  9. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  10. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  11. Hades – Candice Fox
  12. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  13. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  14. The Maze Runner – James Dashner
  15. The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
  16. The Death Cure – James Dashner
  17. A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby
  18. More Than This – Patrick Ness
  19. Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead – Rebecca James
  20. Solitaire – Alice Oseman
  21. Trouble – Non Pratt
  22. The Rose Project – Graeme Simsion
  23. The Bane Chronicles  – Cassandra Clare et al

I started this book this morning, while I was eating breakfast, and managed to finish it this afternoon, while eating afternoon tea. I can’t actually remember the last time that I did that.

So what was it about Cooper Bartholomew is Dead that had me so enraptured? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. But from the moment I picked it up, I was hooked.

I was lucky enough to win this book in a competition Allen and Unwin held on their Facebook page a few weeks ago. You know those competitions that you enter just because? I never expect to win anything, but this time I did! I would’ve read it as soon as it arrived, but I’d just started More Than This and was trying to comprehend the sheer genius trapped between the covers of that particular book.

But I’m talking about Cooper Bartholomew is Dead .

This story is split into four separate POVs at two separate points in time. You have Cooper, Libby (Cooper’s girlfriend), Claire (Cooper’s ex), and Sebastian (Cooper’s best mate). Then you have the story told after Cooper’s death (“Now”), and before Cooper’s death (“Then”). It sounds like the story would be hard to follow, but it’s not. The time frames are easy to distinguish and the POVs are very different to one another. I have to hand it to James, this was a very ambitious structure that she pulled off flawlessly. But not only this, she made the structure work for YA. YA stories have a reputation as being simple, linear stories that have very little subtext. Now, while that’s starting to change, YA is still not the most cerebral of genres. So James managed to make the story both simple and convoluted at the same time. The only times I ever felt lost were the parts where I read too fast and missed plot points.

The plot doesn’t linger. It is all go-go-go. Whether we’re at a party with Claire, or in Sydney with Cooper and Libby, we are never bored and everything ties together to give us an ending that I didn’t see coming. The story starts as a story of grief, morphs into a murder mystery, switches to a miniature tale about mental health, and then twists into something else entirely.

I will say that parts of the story were a little predictable, like a certain scandal that could have only have had the one outcome. But I think what mattered most in this story were the characters. I mean, I hated Claire but I felt sorry for her too. And there were a few secondary characters who I hated simply because they were weak. People can change their situations if they want, but a major percentage of the cast of this book just gave up. And I hated them a little for that.

I suppose it’s wrong to label Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead as YA. The characters are all in university, or doing apprenticeships, or simply working after high school. So, I guess this book is actually New Adult fiction (NA). Which I thoroughly enjoyed. James took on drug experimentation, homosexuality, and sex in a non-emphatic manner that passed no judgement. What I hate in YA is the demonisation of drugs and the emphasis on the importance of one’s first time having sex. Drugs can be bad, yes. But so can alcohol. And don’t even get me started on cigarettes. Drugs like cocaine and weed (probably especially weed) are actually part of the YA, and NA, culture and I personally think that’s OK. It’s only when these drugs overtake a person’s life, or when people on drugs start to hurt other people, that they become a problem. Just like alcohol. It was refreshing to see such a normalised view taken on these things.
And sex? Sex is just…sex. Why does it have to be such a big deal? Thank you James, for demonstrating that sex is simply a part of relationships instead of making it out to be this massive decision that people have to make in their lives.

(People shouldn’t have have sex before they’re ready, but once that happens…what’s the big deal? I mean seriously. Case and point: Sex and the City. Why is it OK for middle aged women but not young women to engage in casual sex? Let’s just think about that for a minute.)

I’m not going to pretend to you that this book is great literature. It’s not. The language is quite simple. BUT Cooper Bartholomew is Dead has something that great literature almost always lacks: heart. You care about the characters and want to know that they’ll be OK. You want to get inside their heads and understand them that little bit more. I felt overly emotional when we find out what really happened to Cooper and when Libby pulls the daisy out of her jeans’ pocket.
Great literature makes you think, but a truly great book makes you feel. It doesn’t matter if a book is written in a simple manner (beautifully complex structure aside), because making your reader care about your characters, or making them feel anything at all for your fictional creations, is a feat in and of itself and not one that many authors manage to pull off.

So well done, Ms James, well done.



About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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4 Responses to #30 “Cooper Bartholomew is Dead” by Rebecca James

  1. Deborah says:

    I’ve only just read Sweet Damage – her previous novel. So look forward to this one as well!

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