How I came by this book: one of my sixth grade students recommended Best Nerds Forever, and even gave me his copy to borrow (he was clearly very excited for me to read it). After doing his assigned summer reading of The Honest Truth, he decided to read this one as his choice book, given its similar themes (y’know, dying, dead boys, death, etc.). I must say I’m so glad he recommended this book to me, because I. LOVED. IT.
As the middle grade author of the I Funny and Middle School series, James Patterson books have adorned my class library bookshelves for many years. I’ve also seen his books for adults on many Barnes & Noble bookshelves (especially when I worked there in college). So the name was familiar, and I guessed his stories were good based on their popularity, but up until this point, I had read neither his books for children or books for adults. Assuming an author is a good one just because they’re famous is usually a surefire way to be disappointed if, in fact, the writing style isn’t to your liking or the book is famous for something other than the author’s actual ability to craft a well-written story. So I went into this one without expectations, even though in the back of my mind I assumed it would be good, as I said, simply because of who penned it (at least, one half of who penned it; sorry, Chris Grabenstein, I hadn’t heard of you before). But let me tell you, it was a million times better than I could have ever imagined.
From the first chapter, I knew I was going to enjoy this story. Really, from the first few lines: “Great. You’re here. I might as well get this whole messed-up story off my chest.” The story’s narrator, Finn, has a voice that is so genuine and so perfectly attuned with who he is as a character, and it’s apparent from page one. I could already tell the kind of boy he is (or was, I suppose, since he’s dead) from the get-go, and Patterson does a phenomenal job of keeping that voice intact until the last page. (I guess I really shouldn’t be so surprised, since he is a famous author and all; it’s kind of his job to write good novels). I honestly think Finn’s narration was my favorite part of the entire story, because it was just so good (shocking, I know, I thought the whole ‘being a ghost’ thing would be my absolute favorite part- we’ll just call it second favorite then).
One part fantasy, one part mystery mix together in this novel for an overall adventure for main characters Finn and Isabella, an adventure of trying to tie up loose ends and finish some very important unfinished business before moving on to the afterlife. The blend of the two genres was seamless, and the topic of death never once felt overwhelming or sad (except maybe at the very end, where I most definitely cried). I actually felt weird enjoying the story so much from the start, because I felt bad that I didn’t feel bad when Finn died- it’s kind of the whole premise of the story, after all. It’s important to have stories portraying real-life topics, especially heavy ones such as the death of a loved one, and this novel tackled that tough topic in such a beautiful way. The characters and their individual quirks were so well-developed, and I became invested in both Finn and Isabella’s stories immediately. The short chapters definitely helped propel me onward, telling myself “the chapters are short, just one more before I put it down and take a break.” The story was just that good, and I found myself disappointed whenever I’d have to take a break from reading it, looking forward to my next free moment to pick it back up again.
The only thing I’m not entirely sure how I feel about (and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers here, but no promises) was the ending. On one hand, I think the story could have wrapped up perfectly at the end of the final chapter, before the epilogue. It was heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time (and the part where I cried, of course), and just felt like such an appropriate end to the story. Part of me likes to pretend that was where the book stopped. Part of me is okay with going on to the epilogue, because that final piece was unexpected and beautiful in its own way (and made me cry, too). It also had such an important life lesson tied to it (although, in the final chapter’s defense, it too had a great moral). I can’t decide which ending I’d prefer, so I’ll leave it up to you, reader, to make your own decision.
Because the next middle grade book I hope every reader, young or old, picks up is this book.
Yes. It was that good.