CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 17. . . .January 8, 2010.
Me and Death: An Afterlife Adventure.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2010.
188 pp., pbk., $14.99.
Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
I leapt into the street. Someone called after me to watch out. I kept running. Lloyd’s ginger-colored hair flapped up and down. I kept it in my sights. There was the warning voice again.”Watch out!” Something familiar about it.
I caught my trick ankle on the streetcar tracks and fell, hitting the back of my head I’d had a problem with my ankle as long as I could remember. Mostly I could run and jump like everyone else, but now and then it folded over and I fell. No warning, I’d be walking along and suddenly I’d be on the ground. Happened once in the middle of a game of HORSE, cost me my shot. I wanted to do it over but Raf said rules are rules. This was another bad time for my ankle to go. The world flickered off and on like a faulty connection.
On: I was lying in the middle of Roncesvalles. Smell of pavement and diesel exhaust, with a hint of baking from the donut shops. An ear-shattering shriek of brakes and a long skid.
Jim started life with few advantages. His father deserted the family, his mother is an alcoholic, and his older sister is strangely eccentric. Now in grade eight, Jim lives his life as he wishes, skipping school when he feels like it, stealing cars and bullying the weak.
We meet him as he walks along Roncesvalles, wearing his stolen shirt, ruminating on a car theft that had misfired, stealing fruit and taunting the old grocer as he does so, kicking a cat and chasing Lloyd, whom he has tormented since Kindergarten days.
But Jim is about to have a life altering experience. Within minutes, he has been hit by a car. In a coma, he is catapulted into the hereafter, a grey world where ghosts in the form of Slayers, Mourners and Grave Walkers all seem to have some connection with the neighbourhood in which he lives. He is assured that he is not dead, but, in a fashion reminiscent of Christmas Carol, he is shown three scenes from his past life with the hope that he will rectify the hurt and pain he has inflicted.
As Jim returns to reality and begins the process of recovery, he is a wiser, nicer, person and uses the experiences he has had in the afterworld to make his peace with previous victims and to vanquish true evil that crosses his path. The latter includes a man who abuses his son mercilessly, the very same child that Jim had also bullied for years.
The story becomes more engrossing the more one reads. With Jim, we feel oppressed and heavy-hearted in the afterlife where ghosts are trapped. The only touch of hope here is Jim’s first brush with love when he meets a young girl also in a coma. Reading on, optimism creeps in, and one becomes absorbed in Jim’s situation as he makes overtures to past victims, recognizing that attempts at redemption are not always easy.
The setting in Roncesvalles, an impoverished area of Toronto, is drawn realistically, and the direct style of writing, liberally seasoned with humour, propels one forward to find out what further adventures befall our hero. Jim, himself, is a believable personality whose growth and change from local delinquent to diamond is graduated and authentic. The large cast of minor characters is developed and real, and the subtle twists, such as the reappearance in real life of the ghosts Jim met in the afterlife, are masterfully presented. The author manages to combine humour with pathos as well as providing readers with a situation that is at once gripping and thought-provoking.
Richard Scrimger is the award-winning author of many novels for young readers and three books for adults. His works have been translated into eight languages and have received critical acclaim around the world. His first children’s novel, The Nose from Jupiter, won the Mr. Christie’s Book Award. His last young adult novel, From Charlie’s Point of View, was a CLA Honour Book and was chosen as one of the “Best of the Best” by the Chicago Public Library.
Me and Death will join his other books as a perennially popular read. The unorthodox fast moving plot, lively dialogue and believable characters makes this an essential purchase for all libraries and a great choice for those aged 11 plus.
Aileen Wortley, a retired librarian, lives in Toronto, ON.
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