Some part of me has always been attracted to those who work between the Living and The Other Side. From dramedies like "Dead Like Me," where Reapers collect their assignments at Der Waffle Haus, to Wim Wenders' elegiac masterpiece, "Wings of Desire," I've been fascinated by these go-betweens. It's almost like I'd rather send somebody else into The Light than go there myself.
Michelle Muto's novel, "Don't Fear the Reaper" attempted to create such a world. She had a number of things working against her. First, her protagonist--Keely Morrison--commits suicide in the first chapter. As if suicide weren't difficult enough a topic to cover in a YA novel, there's the added stigma that many faiths and cultures consider suicide to be one of those capital-S Sins that gets you an automatic ticket on the Down elevator. Second, Keely's twin sister, Jordan, had been brutally murdered just a couple months before; indeed, it was Keely's unbearable grief that led her to cut her wrists, in the hope that she and Jordan would be reunited. Keely's voice narrates "Reapers," and we hear her regret as she bleeds out, how she wishes she could get up and call for help.
These are delicate subjects for the first chapter of a YA novel. Michelle Muto handles them masterfully.
Keely is disappointed to find that she is welcomed to the afterlife, not by her sister, but by a Reaper named Banning, and a wise-cracking demon, named Daniel. Because Keely is a suicide, Daniel is there to claim her soul for Hell. Banning is there to safeguard her, because there are extenuating circumstances, and Keely's banishment will be subject to review.
I liked the mythology Ms Muto creates as far as life and afterlife. I call if "mythology," because nobody really knows how it works. Well, billions do, but they're all dead, so they're no help at all.
In the days between her death and her funeral, Keely deals with grief and regret, of course, but she learns about empathy, kindness, tenacity, and the power of love. By the time she reaches her "trial," she is a much stronger and wiser person than the teenaged girl who cut her wrists in that bathtub.
"Don't Fear the Reaper" avoids most of the potholes this type of subject matter presents. I like the evolution of Banning, Daniel, and Keely as an odd little family, and when the "trial" ends as it does, it makes perfect sense.
Inevitably, I drew comparisons between Keely's first few days between worlds, and how Georgia Lass faced a similar adjustment in "Dead Like Me." The circumstances are different, and Keely seems to have an easier time, though with less breakfast food and fewer f-bombs.
From the heading, the book is entitled "Don't Fear the Reaper (Netherworld, #1)." This novel works so well as a one-off, that I'm not sure how this could carry on as a series. I can't worry about sequel feasibility right now. I found "Don't Fear the Reaper" to be thoroughly captivating, and that's all that matters now. (after I stayed up all night reading it straight through). Recommended.