Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: Death Comes Knocking (YA lit featuring the Grim Reaper and Necromancers)

Croak by Gina Damico

Tired and desperate from a wide variety of behavior issues, Lex’s parent send her for some rehabilitation with dear old uncle Mort – who, it turns out, is a grim reaper.  It turns out, some of Lex’s problem behaviors may mean she is the perfect teen for the job.

Something Deadly This Way Comes by Kim Harrison

In this last book in the Madison Avery series (and really, you’ll want to start at the beginning), Madison is now the somewhat conflicted but not altogether unwilling leader of the Dark Reapers.  Book 1 is Once Dead, Twice Shy and book 2 

The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson  

 “Dear Gabriela,
You’ve been chosen for departure.  How about next Wednesday?  That gives you a week. Save a dance for me.
– Hercule”

Some people don’t die, they simply depart.  A note arrives from one of the Deaths and you are given a date and place.  You can put together a wrap-up list, a list of things you want to do before you go, and if you are lucky – maybe you can trick Death into giving you a pardon.  

Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride

 “Slow down and explain to us plebeians. If you have to, use sock puppets.”
Lish McBride, Necromancing the Stone
This is book two, you want to start with Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.  Then read this one.  But DO read them.  They are fun, a great read for Buffy fans.  Basically, a slacker boy – Sam – finds out he is a Necromancer and finds himself part of a turf war with a strong and powerful necromancer who wants him capital D. E. A. D.  Sam learns about the turf war when he finds the head of the girl he adores from afar in a box on his front step – and it starts talking.  It only gets crazier from there. 

Death and the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones


When 16-year-old Lorelei is saved from an accident, it changes everyone’s destiny.  And now she is being stalked, the question is by who and why.

What’s your favorite book featuring the Grim Reaper or a Necromancer?  Tell us in the comments.

Reaper Review: The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson

“Dear Gabriela,

You’ve been chosen for departure.  How about next Wednesday?  That gives you a week. Save a dance for me.
– Hercule”

Some people die, others simply depart.  They are escorted by death from this life into the afterlife.  The process is pretty straightforward:  they send you a notice, you write a wrap-up list, and then they give you hints.  If you can guess their Noble Weakness, you may find a way to get a pardon.  And 16-year-old Gabriela desperately wants a pardon.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpfssQRKc_0]

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  It had a great balance between pathos and snarkilicious humor, most in the form of Death himself, Hercule. Half-way through the book Gabriela and her three best friends do a summoning ceremony to capture Gabriela’s Death – he is just one of many – and they learn that he is now literally bound to her until her departure.  This makes for some fun scenes and insightful interactions.  Hercule is a great character, as Death should be.

There is also some really great family and diversity stuff happening here.  Gabriela herself is half Mexican, and there is a textured subplot about how her mother’s family disowned her because she married a Mexican man.  Gabriela’s friends are, as she describes them, a gradient color of hues, and they include a male named Raahi, who is Indian.  One of Gabriela’s friends reveals that she likes girls, which Gabriela struggles with some because of her faith.  Speaking of faith, this is a rich look at a family that is steeped in Catholic traditions.  Yes, even in this fantastical version of reality where Deaths are known to come and take people for departures, there is a rich discussion of the Catholic faith. A touching portrait of strong friendship, an interesting examination of faith, and some complex family situations – there were a lot of things I liked about this book.

As you would expect, Gabriela finds herself doing a lot of introspection as she counts down her last 5 days until departure; the meaning of life, love, and the ongoing idea that we all put on uniforms as we face the world, Arntson does some thoughtful introspection here.  And it’s just not what she thinks about that moves you, but the wording that Arntson puts forth:

“As the years pass, the marriage they fought for is settling into acid.  It makes me think again about uniforms.  When Mom and Dad fell in love, was it with the person or with some disguise put on to impress?  On the other hand, maybe they really did love each other, and now they’ve forgotten – each presumptively dressing the other in the uniform of their own annoyance.  When do you see the person, and when the facade?” – page 93.

It’s a quick read, coming in at only 236 pages.  Thoughtful, at times heartbreaking, at times funny – you’ll find yourself hoping that Gabriela finds a way to trick Death so she can get her pardon.  The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson is a sleeper, one of those quiet novels that can sit unnoticed on a shelf, but if you pick it up and read it you will be pleasantly surprised.  Recommended, 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Top 10 Tuesday: From Beyond the Grave

In the end, life inevitably always ends in death. Death and taxes you know.  A lot of teens can avoid the taxes part, but they often get to the death part too early, especially in teen fiction.  But death is a funny thing, and you don’t always stay dead.  Or you hang out in limbo while you wait to learn life’s GREAT LESSONS.  So here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of books that tell their stories from beyond the grave, where teens come back to make things right, fall in love, or just haunt the people who made their lives miserable.  They are not always ghost stories, because you don’t have to be a ghost to haunt someone.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” (Lauren Oliver)

The idea for this Top 10 list came as I was reading Before I Fall the other day.  Here, Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident on her way home from a party, and yet she keeps waking up to repeat this day over and over again.  The question she must ask herself is why: What happened on this day that she is supposed to change?  Before I Fall is an interesting book because in the beginning, our main character is really not that likeable.  And yet, as she relives this day over and over again she comes to understand who she is and tries to find a way to make it right while she still has a chance.  It is an interesting story about bullying and how we affect those around us. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The remaining books on our Top 10 list involve teens telling their stories from beyond the grave through unique storytelling devices or living as ghosts to continue their tale . . .

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” (Jay Asher)

“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes the choices make you.” (Gayle Forman)
“You can obsess and obsess over how things ended- what you did wrong or could have done differently- but there’s not much of a point. It’s not like it’ll change anything. So really, why worry?” 
(Jess Rothenberg)
“New Orleans is a city that’s defined and therefore haunted by its past.” (Paula Morris discussing Ruined at http://www.bookdivas.com/interviews/2010/03/interview-paula-morris)
“Dear sir: twelve hours is as twelve years to me. I imagine you in your home, smiling, thinking of me. That I am your heart’s secret fills me with song. I wish I could sing of you here in my cage. You are my heart’s hidden poem. I reread you, memorize you, every moment we’re apart.”  (Laura Whitcomb)
“and if we can change
things that have
already happened
if those planes can fly in
uneasy formation
if that splinter moon
can blow away the shadows
then anything,
anything at all.”  (Jaclyn Moriarty)
“Great. Not only do I have an angry spirit guide, but an angry spirit guide with a vindictive streak and an unnatural knowledge of show tunes. Better and better already.”  (Stacey Kade)
“I started wondering about how someone would feel if they got a letter from a dead girl; what if the relationship between the two had been bad? Then my head was off into why had the relationship been bad. The novel started to form.” (Gail Giles discussing Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/authors/stories_behind/storygiles.html)
“My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.”  (Alice Sebold)
Now it’s your turn, tell us your favorite stories of teens speaking beyond the grave and trying to right wrongs.  Don’t forget to tell us what your favorite title on the list is.