Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself. The tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires, or she can replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will result in a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no-brainer. She’ll take a walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be?
But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel, until this self-proclaimed queen bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. Too quickly, RJ finds herself back in limbo, her time on Earth once again up for debate.
RJ is a snarky, unapologetic, almost unredeemable, very real girl. Her story is funny and moving, and teens will easily connect with her plight. Prepare to meet the Grim Reaper, who’s cuter than you’d expect; Hawaiian shirt–wearing Death Himself; Saint Peter (who likes to play Cornhole); and Al, the handler for the three-headed hound that guards the gates of Hell. This cast of characters accompanies RJ through her time in the afterlife and will do their best to gently shove her in the right direction.
It’s interesting how some three star books are “good” three stars, and some three star books are “bad” three stars. This is definitely the case of a “good” three star. It’s a book that I genuinely enjoyed, and one that was funny, deep, and alternately light hearted yet heart aching throughout. I suppose this is the part where I admit to you, friends, that I have been in such a terrible reading slump for well over a month now. Nothing (other than Cara McKenna’s excellent romance novels it seems) is getting through to me at the real emotional level. This novel was good and affecting, but some emotions just didn’t get through to me, and I can’t tell if it’s me and my slump or the book. Frustrating!
So the premise goes that RJ’s soul is accidentally reaped and she is sent onto the Afterlife for “processing”. The Afterlife was a fully-realized realm displaying a combination of Christian and Greek myths. RJ gets bounced around between a variety of angels, reapers, other otherworldly beings, and even Death Himself. Did you know the Afterlife has a ton of bureaucracy that makes simple requests like reuniting your soul with the unjust separation from its body? Well, it does. It was so entertaining to watch RJ interact with a variety of well known figures; everyone from St. Peter to Cerberus. And all of the characters we meet were so colorful. The book was just plain fun, especially for those who enjoy watching characters from mythology and religion come to life.
I enjoyed RJ for being a heroine likeable exactly for her unlikeability. It was honestly refreshing to me to have a protagonist who was so unpleasant (at first). Yes, you can have female main characters who aren’t perfectly good girls. Something else that was totally refreshing? This is a YA novel with no romance. And it was all the better for it. So, RJ has to cut through all of that Heavenly red-tape and make the case for even giving her a shot at getting back to her life. The Afterlife bureaucracy doesn’t take kindly to admitting it’s made mistakes and the Heavenly host overseeing RJ’s tribunal doesn’t see why RJ is worth the time. And you don’t really want to be on the bad side of a power tripping archangel. RJ was the reigning Mean Girl in her high school. Her short time on Earth hadn’t had the most positive effects in the lives around her.
But they do decide to give her at least a chance, and so RJ is presented with three moments in her life where she can choose to remain the same, and make the same choice she made the first time. Or she can handle it differently if she wants. It’s all up to her. After her trials, the tribunal will reconvene and decide if she’s truly changed, and if the changes she’s made resulted in positive effects in the ripple-web effect of the lives around her.
I wish we had seen more of RJ’s life as the evil queen bee so we had a better appreciation for her growth. It’s a first person narrative so we do get to see the inner workings of her mind from the get go. And we get to see her reflect on her evil machinations in the sort of flashbacks of the trials, but it could have been more effective if we had seen it firsthand than through memories. Sarah J. Schmitt did a wonderful job of making RJ relatable. She was an awful, selfish, uncaring person in her first go around. And it can be hard to get readers themselves on board as to why RJ deserves a second chance.
But Schmitt really dug into her humanity, and you feel for RJ who is still such a young person after all. We all like to believe that change really can happen. Seeing RJ actually confront her life, and exactly how awful she had become is the key to effectiveness in this story. At its heart, this is a story about second chances and the power of friendship. It’s best not to think too seriously about the effects of changing timelines. I mean, you know, Heavenly beings have the power to change all of time and space. Just accept it.
And the ending was very effective. View Spoiler »In going back and making different choices during her Trials, RJ ends up completely changing the timeline of her life. Originally, RJ was to live into old age. But she is returned to her life in a completely new timeline: one in which she dies tragically young. RJ ends up trading her long life full of selfishness and negativity for a short one full of love and genuine friendship. Basically, the end result is not avoided-she still dies. RJ goes on to accept a counseling role for the newly deceased in the Afterlife. « Hide Spoiler It was satisfying in how perfectly bittersweet it was.
Read this book, but obviously don’t go into it expecting a serious examination on free will and the ramifications of changing timelines. It’s a fun book, but one that also has a serious and good message at its core. It’s A Wonderful Death is recommended for those who enjoy fun and light paranormal, reaper stories, and second chances. And I see it being especially popular among the younger YA crowd.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.