Recently, we put together a collection of meditative picture books that dealt with ideas of death and the afterlife. Some authors, though, choose laughter over tears
as a way to probe that question. Judy Sheehan’s I Woke Up Dead at the Mall (review
adjacent) follows Sarah, 16, who finds herself in a purgatory-like Mall of America. Below,
discover more stories about kids who have at least one foot in the grave—and some seriously dark funny bones.
Croak. By Gina Damico. 2012. HMH, $8.99 (9780547608327). Gr. 7–10.
Once a sweet straight-A student, Lex can’t explain the reasons behind
her furious, violent rampages, and she is packed off to Uncle Mort’s farm
for the summer. To Lex’s shock, Uncle Mort reveals that he is a Grim Reaper, and Lex herself shows talent for the family business. When unexplained
deaths crop up, it looks as if a rogue reaper is at fault.
Denton Little’s Deathdate. By Lance Rubin. 2015. Knopf, $17.99
(9780553496963). Gr. 9–12.
Like almost everyone in this near-future tale, Denton Little knows when
he’s going to die. Even more weirdly, his clock has him kicking the bucket
young, at only age 17. The subject matter certainly isn’t without its heaviness, but it’s tempered by Denton’s charmingly glib first-person narrative
and sarcastic, irreverent gallows humor.
The Devil’s Intern. By Donna Hosie. 2014. Holiday, $16.95
(9780823431953). Gr. 7–10.
Four years into an afterlife that’s so like its predecessor that new
residents retain their zits, Mitchell holds a nice gig in Hell’s accounting
department. But when he learns that his demonic boss possesses a time-travel device, Mitchell enlists his buddies in a scheme to prevent their
deaths in a tale that swings from dead funny to dead serious.
Devilish. By Maureen Johnson. 2006. Penguin/Razorbill, $16.99
(9781595140609). Gr. 8–11.
When high-school-senior Jane’s best friend, Allison, starts acting oddly,
it doesn’t take Jane long to figure out that there’s some unholy connection
between Ally and new girl Lanalee. Ally has sold her soul to junior devil
Lanalee in exchange for popularity; Jane, not believing it for an instant, boldly informs
Lanalee that she will take Ally’s place.
Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. By Dale E. Basye. 2008. Random, $16.99
(9780375840753). Gr. 3–6.
When Marlo Faustus and her younger brother, Milton, die in an accident, they arrive
in Heck—where the bad kids go. Puns and allusions abound, enough to sate the corniest appetite: the kids’ limbo is ruled by one Bea “Elsa” Bubb, Principal of Darkness, and
faculty include Mr. Nixon (ethics) and Lizzie Borden (home ec). Marlo and Milton work
through a complex sibling relationship on their quest for escape.
It’s a Wonderful Death. By Sarah J. Schmitt. 2015. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $17.99
(9781634501736). Gr. 6–9.
Seventeen-year-old RJ is used to getting what she wants, so when a Grim Reaper
gets duped by the fortune-teller at the Halloween carnival and collects RJ’s soul accidentally, she is determined to fight for what she deserves—a second chance at life.
In spite of her rep as a “mean girl” who sacrificed many for her own ends, snarky RJ
wants an opportunity to prove her worth and maybe correct some of her mistakes
while she’s at it.
LAUGHING IN THE AFTERLIFE
BY MAGGIE REAGAN
I Woke Up Dead at the Mall.
By Judy Sheehan.
Mar. 2016. 288p. Delacorte, $17.99 (9780553512465); lib. ed., $20.99
(9780553512472). Gr. 6–10.
Any reader who loves snarky, sarcastic teens, ghost
stories, romance, and loves/hates to shop will enjoy
16-year-old Manhattanite Sarah’s shock
at dying and waking up at Minnesota’s
Mall of America. “I never once considered that the afterlife was in Minnesota,”
she muses. But not only is she dead, she
has been murdered—and, worse, she is
still wearing the hideous mango-colored
bridesmaid dress she died in at her wealthy
father’s second wedding. Sarah and her
fellow dead teens revisit a day from their life (“Thornton
Wilder Day”), go to their own funerals, and have group
therapy to help them move on. If they don’t, they risk
becoming mall walkers who endlessly trudge around in
a dreamlike state. Sarah falls for cute, heroic Nick and is
determined to go back to earth and avenge her death by
haunting the person she believes murdered her, and maybe
even save a loved one from being murdered as well. As a
child, Sarah had premonitions but was unable to save her
mother’s life—hopefully, she can succeed this time. This
sparkling debut pulls out all the stops: sweet, sad, hopeful,
funny, and romantic in turn, it’s a story bound to make
readers laugh even as they cry. —Sharon Rawlins
few weeks they realize that the candy turns
the students and teachers into smiling, mindless zombies. After the candy, Mr. Jones starts
feeding the students free hamburgers. They
look and smell disgusting and have a rapid
and nasty side effect: they make everyone who
eats them fat and flatulent. Determined to rid
their school of this infestation, they start to
plot a way to defeat Jones, finding that dumbwaiters and spices can be effective weapons.
Humorous and imaginative, the illustrations,
newspaper headlines, and Post-it notes will
keep readers of all ages up past their bedtimes
to finish what, hopefully, is Jonny’s first adventure of many. —Suanne Roush
By Gordon Korman.
Apr. 2016. 240p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545823159);
e-book, $16.99 (9780545823173). Gr. 4–7.
Though Cam’s parents have put up with
his gamer “lifestyle” for years, things change
after his inattention to a simple request
leads to burnt pasta, billowing smoke, and
firemen axing their way through the front
door. Responding to his parents’ ultimatum
that he take up a new interest, 13-year-old
Cam starts the Positive Action Group, a
fake middle-school club for good-deed doers. There’s just one problem: when the club
takes off despite his efforts to sabotage it,
this champion slacker becomes the reluctant
president of a wildly successful organization.
After the funny opening chapter, in which
Cam relates the oven-fire fiasco, the narration rotates among many characters. The
technique works well, showing varied points