September 29, 2015

Sarah J. Schmitt: "It's a Wonderful Death" (ARC Review)

Title: It's a Wonderful Death [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sarah J. Schmitt [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife
Year: 2015
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Funny and bittersweet story with an unconventional premise for a YA book. Colourful set of characters.
Cons: The main character's moral switch is pretty wide and the butterfly effect is a bit extreme - they stretch believability.
Will appeal to: Those who like humour and sarcasm alternating with sweet interactions and emotive moments.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself. The tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires, or she can replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will result in a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no-brainer. She’ll take a walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be? But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel, until this self-proclaimed queen bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. As a matter of fact, I wrote to Sarah J. Schmitt as far back as December 2014, when the first blurb of IAWD was released. She replied shortly after and in a really kind fashion, promising a PDF copy of her book to me as soon as it was ready to go around. Many months passed, during which I made a point not to bother Schmitt again, hoping for the best but prepared to find out she had probably forgotten all about this small blog and its owner - and I wouldn't have hold a grudge against her if she did. You know, so many blogs, so little time :). But, true to her word, in August Schmitt reached out to me again, and confirmed that I was going get IAWD from her publicist, which happened in a few days. So, a huge THANK YOU to Sarah J. Schmitt and SkyHorse Publishing for sending me an eARC! As usual though, this didn't affect my appreciation of the book in any way. Same for the fact that the author is a self-proclaimed fellow Heroes fan :). Here goes...
Afterlife novels. I simply can't have enough of them. And the best thing about them is, I still have to come across an afterlife story that isn't original in some respect. IAWD is no exception to this unwritten rule. I don't know about adult fiction, but as far as YA lit goes, I've never read a book before where the main character gets "collected" by mistake and ends up pleading demanding to be restored in her timeline in front of a heavenly tribunal.
IAWD starts with a bang - a tragicomic one. Instead of being gradually introduced to the main character - seventeen year old RJ - we meet her at the very moment of her accidental (and bizarre) reaping. But RJ's reaction to the event gives us a definite flavour of her personality. She realised that the Grim Reaper wasn't originally aiming at her, and of course she won't volunteer to get collected - but the way she fights and demands for answers (and for her destiny to be reverted to its natural course) lets us know all there is to know about her...except it doesn't. Because for all her spunk and egocentrism and supposed mean-girl attitude, RJ is essentially guilty by association, and weak when it comes to leave the protective umbrella of the actual mean clique at school - as we are to learn soon. Not to mention, a potential good girl who has progressively lost her track.
Anyway, RJ's real nature and her chances of redemption if restored in her original timeline are not, turns out, the main concern of the afterlife bureau. Since RJ's case is apparently unprecedented, and many different interests are involved, the "legal" battle about her destiny doesn't exactly revolves around righting the wrong she endured. This is the part of the book I enjoyed more, because the limbo setting, the characters and the tribunal fight are plain fun. Schmitt populates her afterlife with a mix of characters from the Scriptures (the angels, Saint Peter), other religions (Buddha), Greek mythology (Cerberus) - all reimagined of course - plus a few originals (Al, Death-Himself), and no one is what they seem, or what you'd expect them to be. Also, RJ's reactions to the events and her banter with the supernatural beings are really enjoyable. [...]

I can say without spoiling the book (since it's already revealed in the blurb) that RJ is finally given not one, but three chances to make things right by revisiting her past. I did enjoy those time-traveling moments too, but here's where I began to have some small issues with the novel. Changing the past armed with a more mature perspective and knowing your life depends on it seems too big an advantage. To me, it would have worked better to have RJ go back with only the awareness that she needed to accomplish a task, and to temporarily align her consciousness with the age she was at that particular moment, at least for the first trial - since she was nine at the time. Of course, this would have presented a few problems, so I understand why the author didn't make such a choice...but like I said, the fact that RJ retains her memory gives her a rather powerful edge, even if the heavenly cards are apparently stacked against her. (Of course, a success in the trials doesn't automatically guarantee that she will be reinstated into her old life, but still...). Also, the butterfly effect is a bit extreme and a little too convenient. I understand that the point of the book is to show that even a small action can ultimately make a big difference, but things rarely turn out to be so neatly wrapped IRL. On the other hand, I have to say that Schmitt made a bold move toward the end of the book, which prevented the story to take too tidy a route.
IAWD is happily devoid of the usual love doesn't even include romance, which is refreshing (though there are a couple offscreen). The main theme, as far as relationships go, is friendship (also of the M\F type, yay!), with family a close second. The afterlife setting is unique and amusing. Though I would have liked for the story as a whole to be a little rawer, I can definitely see it appealing to readers who love a spicy, but ultimately bittersweet taste in their YA.

For more Afterlife books click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Jessica Warman: "Between".


  1. I love both humor and sarcasm and I love books that feature m/f friendships - so I'll be adding this to my TBR list.

    You might also like the Croak series by Gina Damico. It sounds similar.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

  2. I adore books with afterlife elements in them and this one sounds definitely amusing. RJ sounds like an interesting character indeed! Thanks for bringing it on my radar, Roberta!

    1. Welcome to the Afterlife Book Appreciation Club! :D


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