On receiving an arc of this on Netgalley, I was quite excited. The synopsis sounded very unique and heartwarming and I had to read it right away. Boo is the debut novel by Canadian writer Neil Smith who is best known for his short story collection Bang Crunch, published in 2007. Bang Crunch was named the best book of the year by The Washington Post and received rave reviews from The Guardian.
Boo follows the protagonist Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple who finds himself in a heaven reserved specifically for dead American thirteen-year-olds. Having died in a high school shooting, Boo wakes up to discover that heaven is split into ages and nationalities, where spirits must remain for fifty years. Although they do not age during this time, after fifty years of being suspended in a thirteen-year-old’s body, the spirits re-die and disappear to somewhere no one knows. Whilst discovering his new surroundings and making new friends, Boo learns the true nature of his death and the terrifying realisation that his killer may also be in heaven. With his friend Johnny Henzel, who also died in the same tragedy, Boo embarks on a journey to uncover the identity of the mysterious Gunboy.
Boo is a very endearing and lovable character. He reminded me of a younger version of Don Tillman in Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, as Boo is obsessed with science and the chapter titles are named after the chemical elements. He is incredibly bright, very mature for his age and I learnt a lot from him. His friends Thelma and Esther are also great characters, portrayed as strong feisty women who live independently and stand up for what they believe is right. Seeing thirteen-year-old girls depicted like this is really refreshing and I commend Smith for doing that.
The concept of heaven is highly original too. The idea that there is a different heaven depending on your nationality and age at the time of death is really interesting and I did find myself thinking of all of the other heavens that must coexist with it. I haven’t read a YA that has really kickstarted my imagination in the way that Boo did.
I also loved the almost letter-structure of it. The entire story is Boo narrating his afterlife to his parents and it gives it this heartbreaking dynamic that makes the reader want to reach into the pages and give him a warm hug. There are moments when he drops in memories of his parents and he often mentions how much he misses them. It’s devastating but heartwarming at the same time, as it really shows his deep love for his family, which again is quite unusual for a kid in their early teens. However, Boo is far from usual!
I would highly recommend Boo to anyone who is looking for a story about teens told in an adult fashion. It fits into the YA genre but there aren’t any frustrating love triangles or unrealistically attractive characters. The characters are very genuine and relatable and the plot is perfect for anyone who wants a story that is simultaneously tragic and uplifting.