• The Good: Weird coming-of-age story with gods and demons and death
  • The Bad: Too many characters; plot too meandering; too long
  • The Literary: Christian mythology and symbolism thoroughout

High school friends Laura, Daniel, and Mo return home after nearly a year on a special program in Ireland. Everyone believes that to be true except themselves, who all know they’ve been dead and somehow brought back to life by their music teacher Mr. Anabin. But in order to return to their lives, they’ve agreed to a bargain by which they must complete magical tasks, knowing some of them will win and others will lose.

Thus begins an incredibly complex and winding magical realism tale. It’s fantasy but feels quite grounded in grief and teenage angsty feelings. It’s really weird, not following much of any structure, and there are a lot of characters, including family members of our three teens, some dead and some living, as well as other supernatural figures that come to the party.

I like the main characters. There are too many overall, but their motivations and actions ring true. These young people are growing up, making mistakes that hurt themselves or their friends, and they’re starting to experience real and deep messy feelings. The relationships are complicated.

Here’s a quick overview. Laura is a musician with goals, who has a strained relationship with her sister Susannah, who seems to be the only one who suspects anything weird about Ireland. Daniel is their neighbor and has an off-and-on again relationship with Susannah. Mo is one of the only black kids in their homogeneous white town, and he’s also gay. During their time abroad (i.e. dead) Mo’s grandmother passes away. She was a famous romance novelist and turned out to be one of my favorite characters. There are a lot of other characters too, whose relationships are also entangled. But even just within our protagonist trio, they keep secrets, sleep around, and generally act like stupid teenagers. The book has over 15 POV chapters, if that gives you an idea of how rambling this story feels.

So where’s the fantasy you ask? Unfortunately, the magic just happens. Characters turn into animals or convince other people to do things, but there’s no explanation for the magic or how it works. There’s a lot of great Christian symbolism but I’m not sure to what end. Mostly the story is too long. The first half of the book consists of the teens just living their lives and coming to terms with the magical agreement they’re in. I guess I’m just unsure of what the book is really about and whether there are any themes.

Chaotic and intimate, I’d recommend this one for fans of literary fiction about relationships with a touch of fantasy.