When I saw the cover of this book, I was intrigued. When I read the title, I was drawn. When I read the summary, I was enthralled. When I opened the book and began to read…well, that’s a different story.
Milton and Marlo Fauster are sent straight to Heck, (that’s right, it’s not quite H-E-double hockey sticks), after Marlo steals from a mall store and then both get killed in a marshmallow-bear explosion (courtesy of Milton’s tormentor, Damian).
Once in Heck they have to suffer going to school under the cruel eye of their new Principal, Bea “Elsa” Bubb, where they will stay for eternity or until they turn 18-whatever comes first. Between taking Phys. Ed. classes with Blackbeard and ethics with Richard Nixon, they hatch plan after unsuccessful plan to escape Heck and go back to the surface.
I was fully prepared to have fun with this book. The premise was very interesting and I was already curious as to how these two kids ended up in Heck (which is the kid version of Limbo). However, I was disappointed from beginning to end.
In the first few pages, rebel without a cause (ever) Marlo engages in petty theft and vandalism of a Christmas display. As she is dragging her brother Milton around the mall to escape, mall guards are in hot pursuit. This was the very first disappointment for me: stereotypes. The guards are slothful and eating food instead of doing their job. And of course, like any guard would do, they chase after the kids, food and drinks always in hand. They go so far as to point to them with a french fry. I rolled my eyes and prayed that the book would get better. Though it has good parts, it did not stray from the type of writing found in the first few pages.
The book is full of clichés, cultural references and potty humor. Too many jokes are crammed in every other sentence. At first it’s very funny, but quickly gets old and predictable. The rest of the story is peppered with cultural references that contemporary youths will not be acquainted with, nor does the book explain these references. As for the potty humor…the kids are literally bathed in feces trying to escape Heck. This happens more than once in the story. Though kids will certainly find that funny (I must admit I did, too, the first time around), it gets repetitive and drawn out.
The worst of it is that there is no character development. The children are not believable neither as individuals nor as siblings. I found myself disliking both of them and unable to relate to them in any way. Though reading fiction always involves suspension of disbelief, the narrative here stumbles too many times for it to be enjoyable or believable.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but suffice it to say that the series may span the nine circles of Heck. After the open ending there are two sections, the “backword” and “acknowledgments”, that are preachy and spiteful.
That said, I can’t end this review without pointing to some good aspects of this book. I loved reading about the tension of identity, in which those sent to heck become demons when their true inner selves manifest themselves physically, pushing the public mask they wear to the inside.
I also enjoyed the very brief glances into Marlo’s moments of “weakness”, where she begins to question her hostile intentions and begins to think differently. The growing friendship between Milton and Virgil (the kindhearted glutton sentenced to Heck) is very sweet, and the fact that Milton doesn’t necessarily see Virgil as a Heck candidate speaks well of him.
I hope the author addresses these shortcomings in the rest of his series. The story has such potential it would be a shame if it completely falls short.
If you have read this book, please share your opinions!