MuseItUp Publishing, May 2014 ~ 5 Stars
Blurb: Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton with a scythe. Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter. The task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly becomes a target. Attacked by both classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want her to fail. Caught in the middle of a plot to overthrow the World of Deaths, Suzie must uncover the reason she’s been brought there: the first female Death in a million years.
Review: This YA fantasy has an unusual setting and a somewhat bizarre plot. At the beginning of the story, Suzie struggles to deal with an illness that mystifies doctors. No matter how much she eats, she continues to lose weight and nobody can tell her why. Then, a stranger arrives and tells her that she is a “Death” – she needs to travel with him to a new school and learn to deal with her powers or she’ll die in the mortal realm.
Suzie reluctantly begins this adventure only to find herself enmeshed in a world that doesn’t welcome or accept her. Everyone, students, teachers, and administrators tell her that the last female Death was a disgrace. Of course, they think Suzie will turn out to be just like her and this means she has more than one enemy. She also has a few allies. And of course, she wants to go home back to the family that loves her although she doesn’t want to die.
Not all of the characters in this story are likeable, but they are consistent. The ones who hate Suzie do their best to balk her search to discover the truth about why she is there. They aren’t afraid to attack her and she finds herself grateful for her new friends. They believe in her and trust that she has a plan even if she isn’t sure of what she wants, much less needs to do. It took a while to establish the rules of this world, but that made sense. How often does a person go to the School of Deaths?
While Suzie struggled with unsympathetic teachers, tough assignments and learning how to handle a scythe, characters such as Billy and Cronk helped make the story come alive. They not only felt like they needed to help her, they also had terrific motivation. Cronk felt guilty for finding her and bringing her to the school. Billy found himself falling in love with his new room-mate. On the one hand, he wanted to protect her – but on the other, he didn’t want to lose his status in the school.
With a well-developed setting, strong characters, a fairly fast moving plot, and snappy dialogue, this novel should keep readers engaged from the beginning to the end. The pace picks up in the middle – no sagging – and the resolution was totally unexpected. Since Suzie is only in her first year at the School of Deaths, it will be hard to wait for her to continue her education. She may be the first female “Death,” but hopefully she won’t be the last.
This review was provided to The Book Breeze by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space.