Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: Boo by Neil Smith

Title: Boo
Author: Neil Smith
Publisher: William Heinemann
Release date: May 12th 2015
Pages: 310
Genre: adult fantasy(?)
Source: Gift from Cornerstone Publicity - thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Puchase from Amazon
When Oliver 'Boo' Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a 'gommer', a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from his volatile classmate Johnny, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives.
In a heart-rending story written to his beloved parents, the odd but endearing Boo relates his astonishing heavenly adventures as he tests the limits of friendship, learns about forgiveness and, finally, makes peace with the boy he once was and the boy he can now be.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is officially marketed towards adult audiences, but I think it has a lot of YA crossover appeal, so I decided to review it on the blog anyways. And I think Boo would be a great read for adult audiences as well as YA readers. It's been compared a lot to The Lovely Bones, and I can definitely see some similarities, but I actually liked Boo a lot better than The Lovely Bones. Rather than following the story on earth from the perspective of a dead person the way The Lovely Bones does, Boo has an actual plot of what happens up in heaven, intricately tied in with what happened on earth before the main character's death. With a captivating mystery, a unique portrayal of the afterlife, and excellent writing and characters, Boo has everything you could ask for.

I loved reading about Neil Smith's take on heaven or the afterlife. At first, the idea that this heaven is only for American thirteen-year-olds seemed a bit contrived and too convenient, but once you suspend your disbelief, it really works. This heaven is a lot closer to our normal lives than most people would describe heaven to be, which means that our earthly logic applies to many aspects of life in heaven, but not all. Boo is fascinated by this and is constantly conducting experiments and trying to figure out what rules apply to life in heaven, which was fascinating to read about. I especially liked how passing into heaven changes some things about people but leaves others the same, which brings up really interesting questions about what about people needs to be "fixed" and what disabilities are really just social constructs.

Boo is a great narrator for this story. For a thirteen-year-old boy, he is very mature, making his narration very introspective, analytical, and straight-to-the-point. His voice is often sarcastic or just questioning of society, which makes for an entertaining narration even in  dire situations. I really grew to love Boo and his random quirks over the course of the novel. The strong voice manages to convey a wide array of emotions: due to the dark subject matter, of course there are scenes that will make you want to cry about the hopelessness of the situation, but there are also plenty of scenes that will make you crack a smile.

Even though I loved pretty much everything about this book, the mystery is what kept me flipping the pages and made me desperate to find out what would happen next. I guessed the final plot twist early on, but I never would have guessed all the plot twists that got us to that point. The suspense had me on the edge of my seat throughout the novel, and I love how the mystery ties in with the unique setting: it's a murder mystery with the added suspense that these are unprecedented events in heaven and that no one really knows what's going to happen, since the rules on earth don't all apply to life in heaven. That element made for a very psychological thriller where you can never really know who's good and who's evil, or what it even means to be good or evil.

What I loved most about Boo is how it combines such a suspenseful story with a ton of moral questions. I can't go into this too much without spoiling things, but the mystery brings up questions of what it means to be good or evil, about punishment and forgiveness, and about mental illness in relation to committing crimes, and so on. The story back on earth also presents a nuanced perspective on bullying and school shootings. All of these issues are addressed in a very open-minded way, complicating our understanding of things rather than getting preachy about the "right" way to look at these issues.

At the end, I was still confused about some things and wanted more answers to all of the questions the novel poses. But in a way, I didn't mind this confusion, because it mirrors Boo's confusion about what has happened and our own lack of knowing about the afterlife, and even many elements of life on earth. This novel gives no simple answers, which can be frustrating at times but really just makes sense with this type of story.

If you're looking for a thought-provoking read that combines a unique, suspenseful story with a lot of deeper questions, Boo is the book for you. I absolutely loved the writing, the characters, the suspenseful plot, the intriguing perspective on the afterlife, and the nuanced way the novel poses questions about the afterlife as well as life on earth. Definitely recommended!


  1. A fun but also contemplative read. Once I started, I didn't want to stop, and in fact found myself dreaming about the book so woke up at 4 am to finish the last 100 pages. I'm not usually a YA fan, but then, you don't typically run across YA books as engrossing as Boo.

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