When I first started reading Boo, I was a little worried about how much I was going to like it. It sounded like a voice that you might hear in a YA book (which I was not looking for). But, I was curious about Smith’s depiction of heaven, and what else I might discover; it was clear that this wasn’t going to be your typical book. I’m glad I hung on, because it got me in the end.
The story is written as a letter to Boo’s parents, with Boo as the narrator. Right from the beginning we know that 13-year-old Boo is dead. Not too long after, we learn that there has been a shooting at his school. But, who did it? Boo has no memory of it, but his friend, Johnny, also killed in the shooting, claims to know who ‘Gunboy’ is; he sees him in his dreams. So, Boo, Johnny, and 2 other new friends from heaven go in search of him, in an attempt to solve the mystery and to put Johnny’s mind at ease.
We embarked on this road trip on the basis of Johnny’s memory. Perhaps that was not very wise if his memory is shaky.
All of this is taking place in Neil Smith’s heaven for 13-year-olds from America. Just 13-year-olds from America. No one else. There are tall walls all around their area, and they speculate what or who might be on the other side. Maybe 13-year-olds from another country? In this place, they are looking for ‘Gunboy’. They are not sure if he is there – God doesn’t usually let in the murderers.
Lately, I have not felt all that brainy. The smarts I have – about amoebae and nebulae and formulae – are useless here. What I need is the kind of intelligence that helps me understand why a boy might walk into a school and start shooting a gun, why one victim might forgive this boy, and why another never will.
The search for Gunboy gets many of the other residents riled up. Especially the murder victims. It’s interesting to read what happens when a bunch of 13-year-olds are in charge of their own world. Like one of the blurbs on the back of the book suggests, it does bring to mind a Lord of the Flies-type society.
Sandy claims to have the facts from back in America, but the fact is that I distrust the facts in this land I now live in. The facts of America do not apply here. The fact is that an unplugged lamp should not turn on. The fact is that thirteen-year-olds should not stay thirteen for decades on end. The fact is that people should not vanish into thin air when they die.
There’s not much more I can say without giving more of the plot away. In the end, I found this book surprisingly moving and original. Neil Smith is able to keep the secrets to himself until it’s time to reveal them. It was well worth the read. And, a book that I can share with my 14-year-old daughter. The only downfall to reading this book is that you will want to know more about Neil Smith’s heaven (come on, even just a clue?).
This would make a good book for discussion; there are so many ideas contained in this one story – death, bullying, mental illness, the idea of heaven and haunting, the idea of a society made up of 13-year-olds, the idea of God and what S/He does or does not control. And, what’s the deal with the cockroach? Does anyone have any insight into how this heaven works? Where’s everyone else? I think I know what really happened, but it would be nice to hear other’s opinions about it. A book for The Socratic Salon, maybe?
In the Montreal Review of Books, Neil Smith talks about his book, and when he first started to wonder about heaven and what was up there.
*Thanks to the publisher for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!