on May 19, 2015
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth-grader, aspiring scientist, social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he is finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys' death.
In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo's great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends, and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover and disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.
Every part of this book just charmed the pants off of me. From the unique idea that there is a heaven that is populated completely of 13 year-old Americans. To the characters of Boo and Johnny and the repercussions that their quest to find their killer has on them – and the Town itself. While no one ever physically ages in the town, for the fifty years in which they are allowed to stay there the characters age emotionally. It was a stroke of genius for Smith to call ‘heaven’ The Town rather than heaven – because clearly in the novel it’s not.
I know that a book full of dead kids doesn’t exactly sound charming or appealing, but you’re going to have to trust me that as weird as this premise sounds, Smith makes it work. There are many twists in this book that I saw coming, there were a few that I didn’t. The surprising tenderness of the prose along with the affability and friendship of the main characters leaves the reader thinking about this book long after finishing it.
Despite being about a ‘heaven’ populated by thirteen year olds – this novel is on no level a YA book. Perhaps it could be an appropriate read for kids of upper ages, but I really feel like the tone, style, and themes make this a book that easily fits into the literary fiction category.
Smith should feel proud of his debut novel, it’s unique, funny, tender, and absolutely enthralling. Go read it, trust me.
Does this book sound too weird for you, Reader? (It’s not, just trust me and go get it.) What do you have this lovely Monday that I must read?