Hoodie-wearing, light-sabre-scythe carrying, dimension-shifting, ex-delinquent teens with attitude get a kick-ass mission as Grim Reapers, transporting the souls of the newly-dead – it has to be good – right?
Well yes, actually, especially at the beginning when the world is new to the rebellious, sharp-tongued, hot-tempered Lex, who is being taken out of her family’s hair for the summer by her uncle Mort. The idea of being a Reaper in Croak, a town full of Reapers, seems cool. Passing the training, making friends, fighting with enemies and resisting the pompous, prideful stupidity of the adults in charge makes for a fun Young Adult rights of passage book.
Except… there’s that dealing with the dead thing. The books are full of death and murder and self-sacrifice and anger that, if unleashed, turns your enemy to ash. This is distressing stuff. It jars with the whole, wise-cracking, can-do, sassy teen Reaper atmosphere. Initially, the unpleasantness is offset by access to a fluffy-cloud, eternity as a tourist, Afterlife, where Lex can meet loved-ones she’s lost and be introduced to famous historical figures. It’s a happy place that makes you smile (who can resist a world where Edgar Allen Poe has a raven called “Quoth”) even if the suspension of disbelief required is staggering – what did I expect in a Grim Reaper book?
Well, actually, what I didn’t expect was that the story arc across the trilogy would become bleaker and bleaker. Each book opens up more of the Reaper world and in each book, things get worse. There are murders, terrible cruel prisons, wide-spread destruction and insanely evil adults.
It slowly becomes clear that the world cannot be saved by witty remarks, fancy moves with a Scythe, teamwork and true grit. The message from this trilogy is that real change requires sacrifice. The kind of sacrifice Presidents talk about when they send thousands of young men and women to die to protect access to oil. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone but, for me, the sacrifices involved were real in a way that made the wise-cracking Reaper training seem at best ephemeral and irrelevant and at worst, a lie to lure the young into a place where adults can use them.
I read and enjoyed all three books. I wanted to know what happened. I liked Lex and her friends. BUT – the flawed after-life concept, the deceptions practiced by almost every adult, the demand for duty-bound sacrifice – these things left a bad taste in my mouth.
It seems the message Gina Damico has for young adults is: – life is short – you can have fun along the way – but there is always a price to pay – often for the actions of the generation before yours.