Saturday, 17 March 2012

Beyond (The Academy) by T.P. Boje

I received this book as part of the ARR (authors requesting reviews) programme in the Basically Books group on Goodreads. Many thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy of her book!

Title: Beyond (The Academy)
Series: The Afterlife #1
Author: T.P. Boje
Publisher: self-published
Target Audience: Younger readers
Pages: ebook
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Past tense

Story: Have you ever wondered where you go when you die? 

Meghan is 16 when it happens to her. She wakes up on a flying steamboat on her way to a school run by Angels in a white marble castle. It is a school everybody has to go to before they are let into Heaven. On the boat she meets Mick who has been dead for more than a hundred years but still looks like a teenager. He helps her past the difficult beginning at the new school in a new world. One day some of Meghan's roommates find a mirror in the cellar of the school and they persuade her to go through it with them - well knowing it is strictly against the rules of the school. Meghan ends up back on earth where she meets Jason. But Jason is in danger and Meghan knows something important. Something that is a matter of life and death. Soon she is forced to choose between the two worlds. The one she belongs to now and the one she left. 

Beyond is the first novel in T. P. Boje's Afterlife series and is great for children and teenagers ages 9 and up.

Thoughts and impressions: I suppose first and foremost, the similarities between this book and Harry Potter should be mentioned at least in passing. I don’t want to focus on them too much but they’re certainly there in various forms. T.P. Boje did go to lengths to change the things borrowed from the Potterverse and adapt them to her creation. Honestly, their presence didn’t fuss me all that much but I know that some readers didn’t appreciate the ties to one of their favourite series.

The way that the story starts, the narrator, Meghan, is addressing the reader and explaining the world of spirits: what a spirit is, how they appear, etc. I’m not sure that this was necessary. I understand why the author did this as it was her way of setting the scene for her world, but the downside is that in doing so she’s laid the whole of her universe before the reader before anything even happens. I think I would have preferred it if the book opened with Meghan waking up on the steamboat with no memory of how she got there and then all these concepts from the first few pages be introduced slowly throughout the book. For the most part, these things are actually rehashed at various points in the narrative so it wouldn’t have harmed the book if the first few pages had been removed.

One of the things mentioned in that part, though, is that a spirit appears in the clothes that they were wearing at the time of their death. All I could think was what would happen if the person died, say, in the bath? Would that spirit be forced to spend eternity in their birthday suit? Maybe I’m thinking too much, I know I have a tendency to do that at times.

I soon found that I was actually very interested in this afterlife that T.P. Boje had created with the idea that spirits train to later go back and interact with the living in order to try to sway them towards doing good things in life and joining them on the good side of the afterlife upon their death. And then God and Satan were introduced. I was really upset and frustrated at this point (obviously I didn’t pay much attention to the synopsis mentioning angels and heaven). I’d been really eating up this concept of the afterlife and then it was all reduced to a Christian concept. Christian because Satan is a Christian concept, not Jewish, and he is much more recent than the concept of God. There’s a scene where it’s mentioned that Satan is leading Adam and Eve somewhere, I forget where, but that’s not possible because he didn’t exist for several thousand years after the idea of Adam and Eve. The snake in the Garden of Eden is actually a representation of the god of the religion that had been popular in that area prior to Judaism and it was fairly normal standard at that time to take the imagery of the previous religion and vilify it. Enough religious side-tracking there, but yes, I was so disappointed when this world was made to revolve around God as I’d been hoping for a really interesting afterlife concept that didn’t hinge on religion. Really I suppose that I should have seen it coming as of the Hebrew terms introduced right at the beginning.

I’m not sure whether this book is aimed at teens or YA. Meghan herself is about 16 but the narration is fairly simple, which would be better for younger readers. It also leant heavily on believing what Meghan told you. I’ve got two examples for this:

1)  Meghan is shown to go cloud surfing with Abhik, a young Indian boy who died of cancer. After that one scene together, Meghan suddenly considers him a good friend whom she has to protect - I suppose from himself - when he is coerced into going to visit the humans (something against school rules at this point in their education). I didn’t see enough interaction between the two characters to warrant Meghan feeling this way about Abhik. Had they had more scenes together to show the growing friendship between them, then I would have been more willing to accept this premise. Instead, I found myself having to just accept Meghan’s word for it.

2) When Meghan first arrives in the afterlife, she is sorted into a group of teens around her age. There are six girls who are all introduced when they’re together in the dorm. One, Portia, is soon presented as a spiteful persona and a ringleader with two cronies, Mai and Acacia. Later on, we get this quote: “Everyone who started to hang out too much with Portia seemed to be affected by that [poisoned heart]. I had seen it in Mai and later in Acacia, how they slowly turned more and more vicious every day.” Maybe Meghan had seen it, but I didn’t. Mai and Acacia were never presented as being nice. As of the very introduction of their characters, they were Portia’s cronies and they were not particularly kind, preferring to kick those who are already down. To back up this quote, there should have been scenes earlier in the book where Meghan is interacting with Mai and Acacia and those two girls are slowly changing from being nice girls who could have been her friend to being Portia clones.

There were a few other times when the reader was asked to just accept things on Meghan’s say so. A little bit of tell is ok but this book was occasionally heavily tell. There was show too, but I did find it to rely on tell a tad too much.

There were also certain things that didn’t make sense, such as Mr Grangé, the spirit who will teach the new students how to fly, was guillotined during the French Revolution and he carries his head around under this arm… yet he compares flying to being “the best roller-coaster ride you have ever tried”. How would Mr Grangé have had the experience of a roller-coaster to compare the two thus? I know that in the first few pages Meghan mentions that the spirits can choose to be visible and move around amongst the living, but it’s not expanded on in this first book and, anyway, Mr Grangé was decapitated – he’d stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd! Also, they don’t seem to get enough new comers. I know there are supposedly around 400 of these schools for spirits, but Meghan is there for approx. three human years and we only see one new intake of students. An awful lot of people die around the world in a span of three years. I know some of these will become bad spirits, but surely there’d still be a fair number of good spirits to contend with. Just little things like these left me scratching my head on occasion.

The last thing that I want to mention is that Meghan makes friends with a human boy, Jason, despite this being against the rules. This is fun and I enjoyed reading about the friendship blossoming between the two of them and the subtle hints that Jason was growing up as Meghan stayed the same age. I thought it was well done and I liked the concept of friendship and even romance between a living person and a ghost. Hell, I’ve liked that concept ever since I was convinced that Casper the ghost and Cat the human girl should totally have had their happily ever after! But then Meghan realises that the abuse Jason receives at his stepfather’s hands is going to go too far one day. She feels understandably powerless to do anything to change the situation but she doesn’t want Jason to die. Instead of either trying to find a way to prevent it, or coming to terms with what she can’t change, she just goes all Bella Swan on us and that is never a good thing. She just lies around in bed for a few months and mopes for the boy who’s not even dead yet but who she cannot save. I didn’t like this Meghan at all. I never like characters that choose to mope rather than be proactive, even if their proactivity does not give results. It’s better than reading about a depressed person failing classes and avoiding their friends.

Despite the fact that I’ve mentioned a number of things that didn’t work for me with the novel, it does have redeeming features as well and I did enjoy it. One of these redeeming features is the on-going plot of how Meghan died. We do not yet know what happened to her, but there are hints that maybe her parents never discovered her body and they’re still looking for her. This is actually heart-breaking. Can you imagine how horrible it would be if your child did not come home one day and then you never even had the closure of knowing whether or not they lived or died? That is one of the hardest realities I can imagine. The author also deals with child soldiers in Africa and I think she treated the subject admirably, even if it was only in passing.

As I said before, it was an interesting concept of what happens to us upon our deaths, and I did like the world that was presented even if I also harboured reservations about the religious side of it. I would have preferred it without the religious undertones, especially as the book brings together people of all sorts of different cultures who are not all Christian yet does not address this issue. But then, there is a large market for Christian fiction out there.

The book also ends at a point where Meghan’s next steps will define her as a person (or spirit as the case may be) and I’d like to see just how she’ll go about rectifying the negative impact she has had on events.

Style: As mentioned, it’s fairly simple. There are also repetitions at times, such as the first conversation between Meghan and Jason where the word “well” appeared what felt like twenty million times in a short space. Occasionally there are odd things that stand out, such as incorrect prepositions, but this could be due to the author being Danish and writing in English.

Final verdict: I think that this book will appeal to younger readers, maybe 12+, or those who are not too overzealous about Harry Potter. I had my reservations about certain things, but in the long run I did enjoy the book. 3 stars

Extra notes: A couple of occasions where bad language is used. No sex.


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