Message Not Found by Dante Medema

Message Not Found by Dante Medema. Quill Tree Books, Harper Collins, 2022. 9780062954435

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Science Fiction, Mystery

What did you like about the book? Bailey and Vanessa are best friends. One night, Vanessa leaves Bailey’s house, swerves off a cliff, and dies. Bailey struggles to cope with this loss and ends up uploading Vanessa’s messages into a bot just to have the chance to talk to her again. As she dwells on her friend’s death, Bailey finds discrepancies and gathers questions, trying to figure out what exactly happened that night. 

Although this book is advertised as a mystery about Vanessa’s death, it’s more about Bailey’s relationships after Vanessa’s death, which, in my opinion, was more interesting. I loved learning about Bailey and Vanessa’s relationship as the novel progressed, along with more about Vanessa and her story. I loved seeing the complexities in Bailey’s relationships with her other friends before and after Vanessa died. It really explored what the grieving process was like in a realistic way and how friends, classmates, and family played a role in it. The exploration of Vanessa’s character was especially intriguing. In the beginning, she seemed like the perfect girl, but as time went on, Medema revealed more and more of her flaws. Additionally, the pacing of the book wasn’t too slow, and the progression of the narrative is believable. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? If you’re looking for a dark mystery thriller with complex subplots, this isn’t that book; it’s more character- than plot-driven. Bailey and Vanessa were complex characters, who struggled and did a lot, but I wish there had been some focus on the minor characters as well. I understand that Medema wanted to zoom in on Bailey and Vanessa’s relationship, but I would’ve liked to see how others were affected by the loss. Seeing more depth in people’s reactions to Vanessa’s death beyond false platitudes, which might only be because of Bailey’s point of view, would have been more interesting. I especially wish that Liz held a bigger role in the story. She was situated as Vanessa’s antagonist, but ultimately didn’t contribute much to the plot. 

To whom would you recommend this book? I don’t read many books like this, but anyone interested in contemporary books with a focus on platonic relationships should read this book! Romance does play a big part, but it works as a plot device or a subplot rather than the central focus.

Who should buy this book? High schools, public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Karen Dong (student library volunteer), Boston Latin School, Boston MA

Date of review: June 25, 2022

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