(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/36474.html)Why I Read It:
Like my Bigger Than a Breadbox review, this is going to be a bit of a disclaimer. At my job, publishers will sometimes send the store ARC copies of their books in the hopes that employees will pick them up, read them and then recommend them to customers. That was the case with this book. However, this ARC had been sitting in the manager's office FOREVER (it was released in 2009 and I think I got a hold of the ARC sometime in early 2011) and they wanted to get rid of it because it had been sitting there forever. I remember I saw this book floating around the YA blogosphere when it was first released and it sounded kind of intriguing so I volunteered to take it off their hands. I'm not too sure why it took me so long to read it though. But oh well, it's been read now!
For this review, there will be spoilers, so skip to the end if you want to be spared.
This is one of those novels that follows the protagonist post-death (akin to The Lovely Bones, Elsewhere and One For Sorrow) which is a trope that's been hit-and-miss for me. I would say that this book fell somewhere in the middle. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't exactly memorable for me either and there were some things that had me scratching my head a bit.
One of those things is the nature of the after-life that Maddie finds herself in. She's essentially in a "room" of sorts that has all kinds of items she lost throughout her life. When she touches the item, she's brought back to the time in her life when she lost the item. Maddie can then watch herself from outside herself UNLESS her spirit-body thing gets too close to her actual body -- then she's sucked in to her body and relives that moment in her life. THEN once she gets too far away from the item that she loses, she's thrown back into the after-life place. From there, Maddie can touch the item again and go back to that same instant in time and relive it again if she wishes. BUT THEN Maddie finds out that she can minutely change the course of events and make herself find the lost item. But when she does that and gets thrown back to the after-life, the item is then gone and she can no longer return to that time-frame in her life. It all felt a little convoluted to me.
What also felt convoluted was the concept of Maddie going back to different moments in her life and then finding out she was able to CHANGE events in her life. Most post-death novels of this sort usually have characters who can watch what's going on AFTER they've died. With Maddie being able to travel in the past, it almost felt like time-travel or something, which felt kind of strange. And with her being able to change the course of events (though she only ever makes minor changes) didn't feel right either -- is the life she lived before she died changed every time she makes these small changes?
The last thing that I found mildly confusing was (and this is where things spoilerific) when Maddie meets her one friend in the after-life. See, at one point Maddie is reliving a moment in her life and she realizes that someone else was there, which means it must be someone who's in the memory (since these spirits can only be at those places if they lost something there). She finds out it's a friend of hers who she had a falling out with, but they can only communicate if Maddie doesn't jump into her physical body to live that moment in her life. When they do finally talk, Maddie finds out that said friend is in her thirties. Now, what confuses me about this is that this after-life where Maddie is in is a space that doesn't follow any kind of linear time-line; it's all over the place. But if that were the case, wouldn't EVERYONE be dead then (because we all die at SOME point)?
Maybe I'm over-thinking all these points, but they were still things to struck me as I was reading. I liked the Huntley's unique approach to the after-life though.
Enough talk about the after-life aspect of the book; how does the contemporary aspect hold up? For the most part it was all right, but nothing especially memorable. There's some romance as we watch in un-chronological order Maddie's relationship with her boyfriend, but I found it to be largely tepid. I did like that the couple had to deal with real problems though, mainly the issue of the crazy ex-girlfriend. I was very empathetic to Maddie in that regard because having my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend hang off of him would annoy the crap out of me too. :) The only thing that bugged me about that though was that Huntley was obviously trying to make readers think that the ex-girlfriend had something to do with Maddie's death and the whole screamed "RED HERRING" and felt so obvious it hurt.
The "flashbacks" (for a lack of a better word) that Maddie experiences also deal with the issue of mental illness: Maddie's best friend's mother obviously suffers from SOME kind of mental illness but I'm not sure how I feel about the way it was dealt with. The mother is vilified to the extreme and I don't believe (but I could be wrong) that no one addresses that maybe someone should help this woman find the help she needs. Instead, she's presented as a villain. Now, maybe she wasn't meant to have a mental illness, but I honestly think you'd HAVE to have a mental illness to behave the way she does.
What mostly kept me reading was that I did want to find out how Maddie died. It's strongly hinted that she was murdered and I wanted to see how the thing played out. The flashbacks do provide some hints about the who, what, when, where and why but there's never anything to make it completely obvious either I would argue. Actually, the nature of Maddie's death surprised me that the author Went There.
The last thing I want to bring up is the writing. It's nothing fancy, but it gets the job done which is always a good thing. What I did have issue with though is that when Maddie re-lives moments of her life, it's written in present tense as if we're right there with Maddie right at that moment, but a lot of the time the voice didn't seem to match Maddie's age; it felt a lot more like Maddie was telling us what happened that day in an "older" voice which wasn't congruous with that moment being told in the present-tense. Then at other times, like when she relives moments when she's an infant, it's written completely in baby-talk/babble (which DOES make sense). It's also a somewhat small thing, but was still a thought that struck me while reading. :)Final Verdict:
I feel like I criticized the book a lot in this review so I do want to point out that I *did* like it. There was just some world-building issues that sort had me scratching my head and got me thinking about some things (probably got me thinking a little too much actually). But if you can just roll with the punches, this is a fairly unique take on the post-death trope. I wouldn't say it was a wholly memorable reading experience for me, but I would recommend this to people who like reading about life-after-death fiction.