I remember my first day of high school, it wasn’t pretty. I went to a small school (the building was shared with a middle school) and I still managed to get lost and make a fool of myself in front of the “cooler” upperclassmen. Can it get any worse t
han that? Try having a fever and being absolutely delusional on your first day of high school, all while at a completely new place. This is exactly what happened to Zee in Beautiful City of the Dead, by Leander Watts.
Zee, like myself at that age, was doomed to not fit in from the start. A female bass player who plays mostly classic rock and heavy metal isn’t exactly what teenage girls are looking for to add into their cliques, but Zee finds a friend in a mysterious and brooding young man named Relly, who shares a passion for music.
Does this set up sound familiar? A mysterious, brooding, handsome leading man? No, he’s not a vampire, but there’s definitely something not right about him. Relly’s band, “Scorpio Bone,” plays a special kind of music called “Ghost Metal.” “You know how if you turn the volume all the way till your ears almost bleed, how when it’s so loud there’s a quiet place inside the noise? Loud enough to shake your teeth loose but in there somewhere is a ghost voice, like silent singing. That’s the sound I want to get.”
It just so happens that Relly’s band has an opening and he’s invited Zee to audition. This is where the reader meets the rest of Scorpio Bone; Butt, the neanderthal drummer, and Jerod, the heartthrob and lead singer. It seems like an unlikely bunch of teenagers to come together, but when they start to play, the band begins to transcend and reach a level in their music that they never had reached before.
Of course, this being a Young Adult novel, there’s something weird about Relly and the rest of the band. If you think there’s a supernatural secret looming in the background, then you’re correct. However, they’re not paranormal entities, vampires or werewolves. The teenagers are also not the only ones with a secret. Zee learns that some of the people she comes into contact with everyday at school are not who they seem to be and they do not have her best interest in mind.
While the book is definitely predictable at times, there are a few things different about this story. One, you may think Zee and Relly are going to fall in love and live happily ever after. While there’s definitely a spark, things are not always as they seem. Music is huge part of the book, but the lyrics are not what you’d expect from teenagers. The story takes place in Rochester, New York and these kids spend a lot of time in Mt. Hope cemetery, reading and copying down poetry that is written on the tombstones. The poetry is dark, but beautiful, and will end up getting Zee in a lot of trouble. You’ll also notice that the adults do not play a large role in this story. There are teachers, principals and parents, but very rarely do they take center stage.
If you enjoy stories that incorporate music, cemeteries and characters with dark secrets, then this novel is for you. While the poetry they read off the graves may be deep and somewhat profound, the story is very simple with short chapters and a lack of detail into the characters beyond the common bond, the weird factor, that they all share.