Three-time Journey Prize nominee Neil Smith made a bang with his 2007 collection Bang, Crunch. In his new debut novel, our narrator, Boo, is a dead kid who is/was 13.
His new goal in life — or his new goal in the afterlife rather — is to share the nitty-gritty details of the afterlife with his parents via a journal he is keeping. How he’ll get said book to his parents is a worry for another day. But there’s hope, in the form of “haunting portals” that let folks get back to earth.
Evidence for portals come in the form of rumours, as well as the occasional mysterious appearance of an insect, and once a guinea pig, as there are no insects or pets in Town.
“Do you ever wonder, dear mother and father, what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven? I will tell you. We use baking soda sprinkled on our toothbrushes.”
See, Boo’s afterlife isn’t as pleasant as we’d expect. There’s no nature, and they’re walled in. “Sometimes groups of townies gather at the foot of a wall and scream or sing together in hopes that someone on the other side will answer back. So far no reply has ever come.”
Boo’s heaven is not heaven as we imagine it. And it’s called Town, not Heaven. And it’s exclusively for 13 year olds. Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple was a “ghostly pale eighth grader, aspiring scientist, social pariah,” who died in front of his locker while reciting the periodic table of elements (in an attempt to memorize it).
As the back cover says, “Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel , a fellow classmate, who brings with him news of the mysterious circumstances of the boys’ deaths.” Have they been murdered? Why? And is it possible their murderer is in Town with them? The hunt is on, as the hunted hunt their hunter.
The man running the show up there isn’t the God they expected either. “I call him zig because the name sounds hip and groovy. I picture Zig as a skinny man with long hair and a beard … he smokes marijuana, burns incense, and wears mood rings on several fingers.”
It’s a unique and entertaining twist on the murder mystery genre, co-mingled with a young-pal adventure novel. In short: if you’re looking for a story you haven’t read before, Neil’s novel got you covered. It’s sad, really, that so few writers write with this kind of imagination anymore.