Sunday, 20 September 2015

Boo by Neil Smith

Publisher: William Heinemann
Format: ARC**
Published21st  May 2015
Number of Pages: 320
Book: For Review*
Genre:  Mystery, Murder-Mystery, Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, YA
Recommended Age: 12+
Contains: Violence, Swearing, Drug and Smoking References
Author's Facebook: Neil Smith

Blurb From Goodreads:
From Neil Smith, author of the award-winning, internationally acclaimed story collection Bang Crunch, comes a dark but whimsical debut novel about starting over in the afterlife in the vein of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.
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.

“I miss you, Mother and Father.  Given my holey heart, you must have braced yourself for my early death, but surely you did not expect my life to be snuffed out by a boy with a gun…”
Oliver, or Boo, Dalrymple wakes up in heaven.  He thinks he died from his heart defect.  But he's wrong.
There's a lot to learn about heaven.  Like why it's populated solely by thirteen-year-old Americans.  What happens to the rubbish they throw down the trash cute.  Where they go after they've been there for a few decades.
But soon Boo has something even more important to think about.  When a former classmate of his named Johnny appears in heaven too and reveals they were, in fact, murdered, Boo and Johnny deduce that their killer, Gunboy, might just be up in heaven with them.
And they need to find him.  Before he finds them...
I've read a couple of books sent in heaven, seen a few variations of the afterlife on TV.  None are anything like Boo.  None have... affected me like Boo did.  None were as unique, intriguing or addictive either.  It's really hard to write this review...  I went into Boo expecting one thing – a cutesy little MG kind of book that was like middle school.  But what I got... it was something else entirely.  Dark, but funny, deep and easy to read, Boo was more like a murder mystery novel than anything about school (or, at least, unlike any school I've gone to).  
The characters Smith created were brilliant and so realistic – so alive (pun intended).  Boo was the best – so brilliantly odd.  Most certainly on the autistic spectrum, he was worryingly clever and not overly fond of people – he was bullied in life.  Up in heaven, he felt more sociable, however, and it was really sweet seeing him connect with people.  Boo was an endearing character, staggeringly clever and often naive all at the same time.
His friends were brilliant too – all three of them.  Johnny was such an intriguing character – one I loved trying to figure out.  Esther was really brilliant – and yay to diversity!  A little angel!  I adored Esther, with her fiery attitude and snark and bite.  Oh, and Thelma was the sweetest!  Like a mother – even though she looked like a child and could never be a mother (it’s enough to break my heart).
I must say, one of the most amazing things about Boo was the relationship between these four characters: it was so complex and sweet and unique and intriguing.
The writing was incredible – so very Boo.  The tone was very sophisticated for a teenager (but totally plausible as Boo) and was deep and dark and beautiful.  There were lots of nice little funny moments that lightened the intensity of everything and made me smile.  It was all written in first person, to Boo's parents, which was heart-breaking.  He was writing to them, knowing they'd probably never get the book, and you could really feel how young he was, despite his intellect – he just wanted his parents.
As for the plot... I'm really not going to lie: I absolutely saw the almost-half-way twist coming.  But I adored that more and more twists came – that the consequences and turns didn't stop until the very end.  I was just so hooked – and so absorbed.
I'm not a religious person.  I've never been to church.  I have read bits of the bible, but I feel my true religion is more along the lines of the Ancient Greek gods.  So I guess I'm more spiritual...  My point, despite this rambling, is not to muse my inner beliefs.  It is to say that as a person who doesn't really believe in heaven, I found Boo intriguing and incredible.  The take on heaven, God (or Zig) and the afterlife... it was unique and brilliant. 
Boo itself was an utterly unique and beautiful book – one that had me hooked from start to finish.  I've truly never read anything like it and I know it won't leave my mind for quite a while yet.  I'm finding it so very hard to find the words in this review – the words to do Boo justice without giving away major spoilers, without ruining the mystery and plot.  
Boo was beautiful – and it hurt.  The characters were odd, but so real.  The plot was utterly addictive – and so painful.  The writing was so gorgeous and lyrical and Boo.  It also hurt like hell – it's an emotional rollercoaster.  It is a story that will stay with you, a story unlike anything you've read before.  And I really do recommend it.  Boo is brilliant and unexpected and so damn good.  If you're looking for something beautiful, thought-provoking and addictive, pick Boo up now.  
Don't make me come haunt you.

Star Rating:
4 Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
Wells & Wong by Robin Stevens
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Happy Reading
* This book was received from Penguin in exchange for an honest review

** Quotes used are from a proof copy and may have been changed in the finished book