Ashes to Ashes by Melissa Walker ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: December 23, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books (Harper)
Target audience: Young adult, Paranormal
Keywords: afterlife, purgatory, young death
Format read: ARC borrowed from Jamie! (Thanks!)
Summary: A terrible car accident sends Callie to Prism (a purgatory before she can reach heaven), where she is trained to bring peace to her nearest and dearest: her father (already a widow), her best friend, Carson, and her boyfriend, Nick. Being so close to these people and not being able to BE with them is difficult, especially as she starts to piece together details of her life she never realized existed before. And then there is her spirit guide, Thatcher, who she feels immediately connected to. As he tries to teach her the proper way to bring peace to those left on Earth, she is distracted by others in the Prism who want to break all the rules.
As a huge fan of Melissa Walker’s contemporary young adult novels, I was super intrigued when I heard she was releasing a paranormal as her next book. For starters, the cover is gorgeous and second, I love when authors I adore take a leap into a new genre, especially when it’s not my go-to genre. It gives me a chance to try something new as well.
It’s true that the “afterlife” novel kind of upsets me, and I’ve steered clear of them until I read The Catastrophic History of You and Me a few months ago. It’s sad to think of a character who is dead, and has no hopes of returning to her regular living life. It probably depresses me more than anything, but I was super swept up in Jess Rothenberg‘s vision for the afterlife (unlimited pizza, reclaiming of prized possessions from the past, etc.) and I found myself really enjoying the story, knowing the main character was making a second life for herself.
Melissa’s version of the afterlife (this in-between before heaven) is called Prism, and I’ll be honest it’s sort of a lonely place. Callie is immediately heartbroken to discover her deceased mother is not waiting there for her with open arms. (She missed her crossing over.) In Prism, Callie’s main priority is granting peace to those she left behind, and when she is not haunting Earth doing that, she is to spend time alone in her “space” (which looks a lot like her bedroom back home), where she is not allowed to invite anyone in to spend time with her. I liked the idea of returning to friends and family and helping them move forward, but the rest of it felt so stark and gray.
The one bright light for Callie is Thatcher, assigned to help her with her duties back on Earth. When Callie died, she was deeply in love with Nick, but it seems as soon as she runs into Thatcher, she immediately forgets about Nick and is fixated on this looming figure in Prism. He’s not very sensitive to Callie and her grieving, and he’s not exactly forthcoming with any of details of his own life. But still, something draws her to him. While his attitude toward her makes sense later on, I still didn’t buy Callie moving on so quickly from Nick to Thatcher and I could have used more meat in this situation because I simply wasn’t convinced.
To top it all off, Callie is also lured by the other kids in Prism. The ones who want to stay young forever, and believe they know exactly how to continue their life on Earth after death. This part of the story was a bit too black or white for me; I half expected a Sharks vs. Jets musical dance off with Callie caught in the middle. Thatcher tried to warn her away from “the enemy” but Callie couldn’t help but be curious. I didn’t blame her. Prism seemed kind of boring.
Something about these intertwining plot lines didn’t entirely click for me. Was it a structural issue? Too much emphasis on one thing and not on the other? I’m not sure. Plus Callie’s voice felt so much older than it should, and I had to remind myself many times that she was only a teenager. As I moved toward the ending there were many developments I guessed correctly but I was left to wonder how things could possibly wrap up in book 2 when so much material was spent on one thing. (Am I being too mysterious?)
Despite the challenges I had with Ashes to Ashes, Melissa’s world building was definitely creative (bonus: Charleston setting!) and I also loved how she interjected slight changes in people’s pronunciation of certain words (i.e. Prism vs. prison), indicating their deeper feelings. Still, I wish there had been less insta-love, and more of the genuineness I’ve come to appreciate in Walker’s books. I have no idea where Book 2 will take these characters, but I’m still willing to invest my time to follow along.