While Jude is visiting the East Coast, she learns that her best friend from home has just committed suicide. In shock, Jude flies back home immediately to participate in the funeral preparations, as well as gather information about the circumstances of Maggie's death. After speaking to Maggie's family and some of her friends, Jude comes to the conclusion that there is no way that this tragic death could possibly be a suicide. Jude is the only person who believes that Maggie was murdered, and she will burn bridges, distress her mother, and manipulate her friend circle until she finds the answers she is looking for.
Pasadena is a young adult noir that transports the reader into the seedy underbelly of the high school social strata. In many ways, this book reminds me of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, but Smith's take on the teenage suicide story has a more youthful sensibility. Jude's narrative gives the reader a glimpse into the complexities of grief and trauma through the eyes of a girl who is trying to survive her teen years. A gruff, brassy person, Jude exemplifies the teen version of a hard-boiled sleuth, which gives her the edge as she navigates Maggie's motley crew of drug addicts, hangers-on, and beach bums. This edginess initially gives the reader the sense that Jude has a finely tuned BS-meter, but as the story progresses it becomes apparent that this is all bravado, and that she may be living with a dark secret behind this mask.
As an adult reader of this YA mystery, I was really happy to see that Smith chose to make her narrator unlikable. Jude is a teen with a lot of anger, and when I was her age I felt many of the same spiteful feelings she did. The author did an excellent job revealing why Jude is so prickly without turning her trauma into an excuse for her bad behavior. Smith handled Jude's characterization with compassion and understanding, and I think that many kids who are going through similar things could really benefit from this book. I grew up in the 90s and early aughts which seemed like the dark ages of YA to me. I wish that I had greater access to books like this one when I was in high school so that maybe I could try to gain some insight into what was happening in my own life. If you know any young people who are in mourning, or are dealing with trauma, recommend this book to them. It could really help someone who is in need feel like they are understood; and as for the kids who don't need that specific kind of help, it would benefit them to read about a person who seems unlikable, but in the end happens to be someone who needs help. This is a valuable lesson that all people could benefit from.
One of the other fabulous elements of this book is its sense of setting. the majority of the novel takes place in Pasadena, one of the suburbs surrounding Los Angeles. If you ever wanted to know more about the Southern California summertime life, this is a great place to look. The hot weather, the beach, and even the traffic transports you right into the balmy Pasadena summertime. This book would make a great vacation read, both for people who are on vacation, and for people who would like to go on vacation but must travel through literary escapism.