Disappointing. Although (to be fair) I had ridiculously high expectations for this book because Zevin’s first adult novel (Margarettown) is one of the best I’ve read all year (and one of my favorites, period). This YA venture has a similarly intriguing premise (a recently dead 15-year-old discovers, well, that “death is not the end”) and the mastery Zevin exhibits with magical realism in Margarettown is evident (if not as polished) here. As usual, my favorite authors tie elements of utter weirdness (Melissa will never forgive me for that kid in Lemon Cake who turns into a chair) to very real and very relatable emotions and characterization. There’s the start of that here, several times, but it’s less successful than I’d hoped. There are similar issues, apparently, in writing about someone’s entire afterlife as there are in writing about someone’s entire life. The plot is a little too broad, too disjointed, to provide the pacing of a building, driving narrative, and the characters and story arc both suffer, at times, at the expense of showing *more.* More of the world. More of the symbolism. More of the problems someone *could* face, in this place, in this situation.)
Also, y’all, there are TALKING DOGS. Which – as much as I love “Up” and as much as I can get behind a whole word of talking animals -- is just a little too twee for me about 99 times out of 100. The sentient pups also add to an off-putting sense that the book is more middle-grade than young adult, in spite of its occasional, more “adult” themes. (The third person, present-tense perspective is tough in a similar regard.)
Overall, Zevin uses her imagined afterlife as a vehicle to explore some really interesting themes -- grief, survivor’s guilt, suicidality, etc. It’s a promising premise with some of the same tools she uses very well, um, elsewhere. (<rimshot>) Like in Margarettown. Which you should read, if you haven’t, stat.