Radiance, by Alyson Noel (Macmillan, 2010, middle grade, 192 pages)
Riley was 12 when she died and went with her parents into the afterlife. There life is not so tremendously different--she still lives with parents (and dog) in the same house (except the neighborhood is empty, what with the neighbors all being still alive). Her parents seem to be adapting just fine to a state of things that allows them to explore, and develop, and enjoy the life beyond, but for Riley, it isn't that easy. Her big sister isn't there with them. Riley's life when she was on earth, and for her first year or so in the afterlife, was defined by her fixation on her big sister Ever...and it's hard to pull away from watching Ever even now. Plus she's having a hard time accepting the fact that she'll be twelve forever (gah!), and she can't quite grasp what the Afterlife wants from her.
But finally Those In the Know summon her before the Council. She is assigned the role of a Soul Catcher, one who travels down to Earth to persuade reluctant spirits to let go and come to the afterlife. And she's also been assigned a guide named Bodhi, a boy she immediately nicknames dorky guy in her own mind (only problem is, once you're in the afterlife, your thoughts are an open book...).
Riley's first mission is to persuade one of the most famous ghosts of England, the Radiant Boy of Warmington Castle, to stop haunting and more on:
"This is where he lives," Bodhi said, his voice filled with reverence. "The Radiant Boy. He's been here for years. Centuries, really."
"Why do you call him that," I squinted, more interested in delaying than in getting the actual answer.
"Because that's his name." He shrugged, chewing on his bottom lip in this weird way that he has.
"So, you're telling me that his mom actually named him the Radiant Boy?" I shook my head and rolled my eyes, fingers drumming against my wool, plaid skirt. "No wonder he's still here, still haunting the place. He's angry. He wants a do over. A second chance with a better name. It's not his fault. The kid got a bum deal."
Bodhi peered at me from the corner of his eye, clearly not amused. "No one knows his real name, or even where he came from All that's known about him is that he's spent hundreds of years scaring people. The how and why is a mystery, and that's where you come in." (pp 72-73 of ARC)
Turns out, Bodhi has little unfinished business of his own, and the two of them are about to be put through the wringer of supernaturally induced fear, anger, and grief....
Radiance is a middle-grade companion to Noel's Evermore et seq., which are Young Adult, but it is most definitely a stand alone-- nothing depends on having read Evermore (I actually haven't read it myself...someday), and YA readers who love that series might find it disappointing that this one is not more YA. It is very middle grade--there's Riley's voice, smart alecky, 12 year old, and, much more to the point, there's the central theme of trying to make it past being 12--worrying about growing up, moving away from your family, starting to think about the choices you are making--all those big questions that make middle school so much fun.
Of course, since Rilely's dead, you might think these things are irrelevant, but that's not quite how Noel's afterlife works.
I was uncertain about Noel's afterlife, into which the reader is plunged at the beginning of the book--I shared Riley's doubts and confusions about just how things were working. But once we headed down to earth on page 65, the book became essentially a fun ghost story, and I began to enjoy it quite a bit. It's not a book I personally loved (mainly because of my doubts during the first 64 pages of afterlife), but it's one I'd happily recommend to fans of the Suddenly Supernatural series by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, or Chris Eboch's Haunted series, who are looking for something more Tween-wards. And I myself am looking forward to the sequel--more ghostly fun with Riley and Bodhi (who turns out not to be dorky at all....).
Other reviews: Mindful Musings, Pure Imagination, The Bibliophilic Book Blog, and Alison's Book Marks.
(disclaimer: arc received at ALA this summer)