Pros:Fresh spin on the afterlife trope. Teen POC adopted by white parents and in an interracial relationship. A side character gets an imaginative, interesting story.
Cons:The lead has a pattern of repeating the same mistakes and is cut a lot of slack regardless. Also, in Book 2, love triangle rears its head...
Will appeal to:Those who love stubborn heroines, romance and adventures in an afterlife context.
Blurb for Life After Dez:Bleeding to death on the side of a rural highway turns out to be the easiest part of Dez Donnelly’s unexpected Saturday. Swept away to Atman Station, the crossroads of the afterlife, Dez discovers her unprepared soul is trapped between worlds in a limbo existence where she’s given two choices: join the program or face the consequences. Her new reality is conduct manuals, propaganda, and unrelenting staff orchestrating a complex program designed to help transitional souls accept death and move on. To make matters worse, the beautiful and enticing Atman City - a stunning but dangerous metropolis that borders the outer boundaries of the station - is strictly off-limits to underage souls. Dez has to choose: go along to get along, or fight for the future she believed in. (Amazon excerpt)
Blurb for Missing in Atman:Dez is finally hitting her afterlife stride. She hasn’t missed a meeting or session in forty-two days, and she’s put the adventures and danger of her first days at Atman behind her. Life after death is becoming tolerable, yet nothing is quite what she’d hoped. In a missed encounter with Crosby, her prying gaze lands upon a single entry in the datebook on his unoccupied desk. These few, hastily scribbled words reveal an enormous secret he’s keeping from her. Possessed by a painful sense of betrayal, she once again sneaks off to Atman City, determined to find answers to an unresolved piece of her life. It begins as all their adventures do, but a stop in an unfamiliar neighborhood sets forth a chaotic series of events. Dez will have to fight for her very existence, and will face painful, irreparable loss in an afterlife teeming with demons wielding ancient powers. (Amazon excerpt)
Review:First off...DISCLAIMER: I received these books from the author after approaching her on Twitter with a couple of questions about Book 3 and the series re-release (Reed put forth the new edition of Book 1 & 2 by herself, and is working on the final installment in the trilogy). She volunteered to send me Life After Dez and Missing in Atman in exchange for an honest review. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Please note: as a rule, I review all books in a series separately - except in particular instances. Since I got these two together, and most of what I had to say applied to both, I made an exception here. I hope it doesn't inconvenience you in any way.
You should all know by now that I'm a sucker for afterlife stories. And no matter how many I read, they always manage to put something new on the table. The Atman City series does sport a familiar element - the soul train - but that's pretty much the only time it flirts with the traditional afterlife mythology. At first I was puzzled about Atman City itself, because it's described as a dangerous area, but the underage souls have been placed in its vicinity - then I learned that they can't be harmed unless they sneak into Atman (which is precisely what our protagonist will do...more than once). I was also puzzled by the fact that even rapists and killers are given a second chance there, until I learned that the afterlife has its own bureaucracy, and Heaven and Hell struck a flimsy balance in order to accomodate both parties. To be honest, I would have moved the underage souls far from Atman (especially after a certain past incident), and if killers and rapists can't go straight to Hell, then who? but in that case, there would have been no book 😉. I have to say though, the world building as a whole is interesting, especially when it comes to the kids' immediate environment and the rules they have to abide, plus the way their progresses to the next stage (which I assume is Heaven) are marked; and there is an equally interesting plot device (involving the chance for the dead to communicate with the living in some form) whose possibilities I would have liked to see explored in depth, while they were just skimmed. I still hope to see it resurface in Book 3.
DENIAL AND ANGER
No one is ready to die at seventeen. No one thinks they're going to cross over on a fine day that just feels like the first day of the rest of their life. So, when Dez makes a mistake and finds herself on a train for Limbo, her refusal to accept the situation is understandable. The only problem is, her denial pretty much lasts for all of Book 1. Not to mention her anger (more prominent in Book 2). She makes a bunch of bad decisions, gets caught, says she's sorry and won't do the same thing anymore, rinses, repeats. Regardless, both the adults in charge and her pals (who are in the same predicament as Dez, so why is she a special snowflake?), cut her an awful lot of slack. Mind you, Dez is not a bad kid. Her relationship with one of her fellow afterlifers (whose story is really imaginative and heartbreaking) proves that. Then again, the boy in question makes her feel special, plus he's linked (though oddly) to her recent past, so she has it easy when it comes to care for him. What I'm saying is, Dez can be frustrating - and volatile (can't stand girl, becomes insta-friends with girl; worries for her adoptive mother, almost doesn't even mention her anymore). She often comes across as a rebel without a cause more than a spunky teen hero. During the second half of Book 2, though, she womans up, right till the cliffanger ending. Still...she's frustrating 😕. And I can't understand why, the more she screws up, the more everybody pets her...
FAMILY AND (BOY)FRIENDS
There are many themes these two books touch upon that I would like to see developed in the final installment...the pods that can be used for communicating with the living (though they're apparently illegal); Dez's adoptive family; her long-time dead friend Aaron; her birth mother, who's been dead even longer; and of course, the big question is: what will become of a certain character, who has apparently been damaged for good? I'm not sure about the first three points, but it sounds like the latter two will feature prominently in Book 3. Plus the love triangle the author set up in the middle installment. Now, regardless of my stance on love triangles, I can't see the chemistry between Dez and the second boy working - I think it's more a case of "I love it that you love me". And to think that their friendship was so cute*sighs*.
FROM ANGER TO DANGER
Atman City was probably meant to be a very character-driven series...but Dez fell short of being a solid protagonist for me. I usually enjoy flawed characters, but I need to see them grow and learn from their mistakes, not to mention being called out for them. Then again, the story (especially in the second installment) managed to keep my attention, and the way Reed set it up at the end of Book 2, there's room for many twists and turns and a few poignant moments. If you are an afterlife books aficionado who loves perilous journeys coupled with romantic dilemmas, this series might be for you.