I started out this blog post to say that generally I'm not fond of the dead teenager genre ... but in thinking about this a little more, I realize that that is completely not true! I loved Elsewhere, I loved Thirteen Reasons Why, I loved Before I Die, I liked If I Stay and A Certain Slant of Light, and even Deadline. (Technically, Before I Die and Deadline don't qualify as dead teenager books, but I liked them anyway.) And I really liked The Everafter ... much more than I thought I would. The Everafter is by Amy Huntley (and has just been shortlisted for the 2010 William C. Morris YA Debut Award).
When I look back on that list, every book but A Certain Slant of Light is a book I listened to ... maybe audio makes the dead teenager book [sorry!] really come alive?
Maddy Stanton is in what she calls Is. She knows she's dead, but she doesn't know how it happened. And, as she floats in Is, she comes across objects -- all things that she lost at one time in her life. Maddy finds that by grasping these things, she is transported to the point in her life where she lost them. She quickly discovers that she can get back into her body and experience the loss (along with the love of friends and family) again. Once the object is found, or she physically gets too far away from it (in its still-lost state), Maddy finds herself back in Is. There are no lost objects past Maddy's 17th year.
Like Maddy, we experience her life out of order: She loses and finds her car keys, then she loses a baby rattle, then she loses a favorite hair clip. Most of the novel is spent in the year or so before she has died -- the year she fell in love with Gabriel -- and she probes the events she relives in an attempt to solve the mystery of what happened to her.
As I said, I was intrigued despite my tendency to disdain young-love-forever-type books. Maddy is an appealing character and we are quickly drawn into the peeks into her life. Soon we are as invested as she is in finding out what happened. This is due, in no small part, to the excellent narrator, Tavia Gilbert. (See above comment about audiobooks and dead teenagers.)
I hear all of Maddy's confusion and grief in Gilbert's performance, along with the intelligent humor with which the teenager Maddy views the world. The novel is fairly short (it reads it just over five hours), and Gilbert really builds the tension as Maddy gets closer to figuring out her death. The narration allows Gilbert to portray Maddy as a little girl at a Father/Daughter dance, as an irrepressible middle-school giggler, and even as a four-month-old infant who has lost her rattle, and she brings her vocal skills appropriately to each of these versions of Maddy. The other characters that people this novel -- young and old, dead and alive -- all have distinctive voices that sound natural in the moments of dialog. Gilbert's mastery of ages and genders (and even species -- we hear from a cat in this novel) is impressive.
This is a teen-friendly book that should appeal to Twilight fans along with readers looking for something a little more complex. It's pretty clean as well, and so might be appropriate for those fourth and fifth graders who proudly lug about the tomes of the "Saga" (I finally watched the [first] movie this weekend), wanting all their friends to know they are reading it. It nicely fulfills that yearning to read about true love forever.