Although this book’s beginning is hauntingly depressing, taken as a whole it is inventively brilliant, and ends with an uplifting message. I felt as if I were reading a cross between literary fiction and commercial fiction, stuck between an art form and a book for entertainment, much as the characters Andrew and Kiernan are trapped between damnation and salvation.
Kiernan’s younger brother, fourteen-year-old Casey, spins a tale of utter sorrow and redemption by looking back in time with the help of omniscient angels. Andrew, a fourteen-year-old boy with autism, loses everyone he ever loved and is left alone in a cruel world with only Kiernan who secretly cares about him. Yet Kiernan’s love for Andrew comes much too late and with a high price. Bound in separate simultaneous suicides, Andrew must recall and come to terms with his past while in purgatory and Kiernan must find his way back to life while struggling away from a demon in the borderlands, for he is not quite dead nor alive. Being bound, Andrew must find the one thing that eluded him in life and use it to save Kiernan’s life: hope.
First, this book is mainly for those who aren’t sensitive to depressing or serious topics. The first third of this book is utterly full of darkness, despair, and social topics such as autism, homosexuality, death, suicide, alcoholism, bullying, and hate crimes. But this was necessary to show how hard it would later be for Andrew and Kiernan to find hope. It is very authentic when it comes to these topics, well-research or experienced. And although this book is starkly realistic, you have to be open to fantasy or religion to enjoy this book. The world building is phenomenal and packed with symbolism--landscapes of purgatory as beautifully serene, borderlands as terrifyingly dry. Also, this book is not for the untrained reader. Personally, I didn’t find it difficult to figure out the timeline, who was whom, or the shifts into other characters’ heads, but I can see how some readers might get lost. The narrator often uses foreshadowing to help readers figure out what is going on while it cushions the blow since readers can surmise what events could follow.
Although some might have to read carefully, this unique narrative style is actually what I liked most about this book: a boy from the fringes of the action telling a story but given direct information from celestial beings. Casey’s first-person account gives readers a personal experience and yet we get that all omniscient god-like detail of others’ thoughts. The style of the prose itself was incredible as well, pushing the boundaries towards literary fiction—almost modern in its straightforward tone and yet post-modern in its disjointed, shifting narration. And yet, there are these times of heightened emotion, with poetic descriptions and profound realizations that shake you to your core, mind blown.
If you like a cross between fantasy and reality and don’t quake in the face of sadness, then this book is a must read. It is a mind-blowing book you’ll likely never forget.
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