The first words out of my mouth after reading this book were "Beautiful. Simply beautiful". It almost goes beyond words and you'll see what I mean if you decide to read it. Touching the Surface by Kimberly Sabatini is an impressive debut novel that was a little different to what I expected as the book is set in the afterlife. It tells the story of Elliot who's a third timer - she's lived and died three times now and obviously isn't getting something right so she's stuck at the Obmil (think spiritual rehab for the dead) trying to figure out who she was, how she died and her growth plan amongst other things. Throw in some best friend issues, a guy called Oliver who she has an instant soul connection with and a guy called Trevor who hates her guts but doesn't know why and you've got an interesting story on your hands. The only way to figure it all out is to "delve" for their memories which is akin to slipping into a moment on earth and experiencing it all over again but will they figure it all out? Can they learn from their mistakes?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I was constantly driven on by the need for answers to those burning questions about the characters and how they were connected. I can't say too much about the plot for fear of spoiling it but some explanations will shock you and when it all comes together at the end; I was well and truly floored. If you're a spiritual person (note, I did NOT say religious), you'll probably appreciate some of the content perhaps more than readers who aren't but all in all, it's a fantastic book that needs to be read and appreciated.
Basically, reading Touching the Surface is akin to slowly sipping and alcoholic drink and by the end, you're drunk on life and realise you love everyone. This was a fantastic standalone and very different to anything I've read so far. If you're after a different sort of YA read, THIS IS IT.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A beautiful YA novel of love and redemption5 Nov 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
This book was beautiful. Not just the writing, although the publisher's description of "lyrical" is accurate, but also the story - and evolution of the characters. It was apparent from the start that Ms. Sabatini could write, but I worried that my initial dislike of the main character Elliot would ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I was relieved to find that as Elliot grew and learned and changed, so did my perception of her. Which I believe is wonderfully fitting, given that the entire book is really all about that - redemption, evolution and eventual acceptance. It's odd that a book set in such an abstract place could feel so real, yet it does, and that's in part due to the fact that the characters feel like people you could know. They are flawed, some majorly so, but that's the whole point - if they were perfect, they wouldn't be there. At times, I did feel a bit disoriented by the twisty fantastical world created by Ms. Sabatini (or rather, by her characters ;)) - but I think that only added to my connection to the characters themselves as I felt some of their confusion.
"Being brave isn't about not being scared. Being brave is what you do despite being scared." - Trevor (That one's going into my all time favorite book quotes, by the way.)
My favorite character by far was the brooding Trevor, who plays the tortured hero role extremely well. The constantly changing quips on his t-shirt were such a clever way to get a glimpse inside his mind and were some of my favorite lines in the book. There's a bit of a love triangle (or a love trapezoid perhaps) involving Trevor, Elliot, and the nearly perfect good boy Oliver, but it wasn't overly angst-y as so many YA novels can get.
Touching the Surface is a beautiful story of love and redemption. It's spiritual without being preachy, and I kind of hope Kimberly Sabatini's vision of the afterlife is out there to give a second (or third) chance to all of us who might need one.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An Unusual, Creative and Compelling Story31 Oct 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Originally reviewed at:[...] Touching the Surface is an unusual book. The entire book takes place in the Obmil, or Limbo, the place between Heaven and Hell. The characters that we meet, protagonist Elliot, her ex-best friend, Julia, Mel, a counselor at the Obmil, Trevor and Oliver and the rest are not exactly people, but souls. Souls that have wound up back at the Obmil, which is, as you might surmise, a holding area of sorts. The place a soul goes after "death", and before the soul moves on to it's next "life." The quotation marks are because saying a soul lives or dies doesn't sound accurate, does it? It's difficult to explain and difficult to describe. But one thing you should know is that although this book deals with religious themes, souls, heaven, hell, reincarnation, limbo, it is not a preachy book. It's not a Christian book or a Buddhist book, it's sort of a universally spiritual book. Different aspects of different religious belief systems are mashed up together. I like this, I like that Sabatini picks and chooses certain things from these different belief systems and creates a uniquely spiritual story all its own.
Elliot is a 'third timer', she's a soul that has lived three lives and has once again returned to the Obmil. This is significant because the "rules" seem to state that a soul should reach enlightenment before three lifetimes. I'm not sure if this is the way the story goes in Buddhist doctrine or if this is Sabatini's invention, but Elliot is back as is her best friend Julia, the soul she has been closest to in two of her past three lives. When Elliot and other souls return to the Obmil, they do not instantly remember their past lives. The Obmil is portrayed as one big group therapy session of sorts (which I think is so VERY cool.) The soul must 'delve '(or witness others 'delving') which essentially means reaching back into their memories and subconscious mind to figure what went wrong in their past life and what they need to do to make changes so that their mistakes won't be repeated in their next life and they will move on to enlightenment. In Touching the Surface, the reader watches as Elliot, Julia, Oliver and Trevor go through this delving and remembering process.
Elliot has connections to the souls Oliver, Trevor, and Julia, connections from her recent past life, and in Julia's case, even more, but she doesn't remember the boys and she doesn't remember why Julia, who has been her best friend in her past three lives, is now upset with her and doesn't want to continue their friendship. Much of Touching the Surface is about each of these souls remembering their connections to each other and healing from the trauma of their past existences.
This book was a truly original and fascinating read. I don't think I have ever experienced anything like it. Everyone wonders what happens when we die. Life's greatest mystery is explored in this work and I really admire Sabatini's creativity. The characters in this book are all beautifully crafted. I was frustrated and enamored with each and every one. I was pulled right into the drama, wanting to find out what happened to all of these souls to make them so hurt and so angry. I loved the way every character, big or small, had a compelling story to tell and I loved the surprises that came when I realized they were all interconnected and linked somehow.
Elliot is an awesome MC, she is strong and stubborn, generous and selfish, frightened and brave. It was amazing to witness her character grow and develop over the course of the book. It was wonderful to watch her journey of self discovery, a journey that left me feeling hopeful and upbeat.
I loved Trevor, who was so closed off and harsh in the beginning but was an amazing character. I think I loved learning his story most of all. And Oliver. Oliver is probably the most heart warming, generous, put-a-smile-on-your-face-that-never-wears-off character I have ever read. "Sunshine in your pocket" type of thing.
"It's not so bad," I shouted out. "The separation, I mean." I felt dumb after I said it, but Oliver nodded his head in agreement.
"It's because I'm full," he called back.
"No-full of you."
"When I first saw you, I felt like I was running on empty. As if I'd been away from you for far too long. I needed an Elliot fix." He grinned. "But now I'm feeling fully charged again. I've got a full tank." He patted his heart twice. "Now I can venture out, safe in the knowledge that I know where to find you should I need to replenish my reserves."
I LOVE me some Oliver. And he's that awesome throughout most of the book. Really, where can I get an Oliver of my very own?
There is definitely a romance in Touching the Surface. And when you start meeting the different characters you think there may be a love triangle too. But there isn't. I can't go into too many details but just trust me, those of you who shudder over triangles (LJ, I'm thinking of you!) do not let this keep you from reading this book. Even with romance being factored in, the relationships found within the pages of Touching the Surface transcend romance. There are friendships and there are family ties but there is this loving bond and connection between each of the souls, a higher form of love, if you will, that is the core of the story. It is really difficult to explain, you just have to read it to understand.
I have to talk a bit about the writing. For a story so unique and unusual, Sabatini somehow found a way to write it in a very easy to comprehend way. It's smooth and seamless even when some of concepts are hard to wrap your head around. The dreamy descriptions of the Obmil are particularly lovely, and Sabatini gets major kudos for managing to build a world that is so much more than white halls and and puffy clouds. What do you think of when you imagine Limbo? I'll bet it's not half as beautiful as what Sabatini presents in this book.
In closing, Touching the Surface is one of those rare books that makes you ponder the big questions, and it's a book that I continue to think about even a couple months after reading it. It is an astonishing debut and I am now an official fan of Kimberly Sabatini. As far as I am aware, Touching the Surface is a standalone (yay! for standalones!) so I will anxiously await Sabatini's next project.
If you like books that have religious and spiritual undertones without coming off as preachy or biased; if you like books that have psychological elements included; if you like books that deal with the concepts of the afterlife and souls; if you like books that deal with not only romantic love, but deeper bonds and connections as well; and if you like original storylines and beautiful writing you must check out Touching the Surface. I do not think you will be disappointed.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Touching My Heart30 Oct 2012
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
- Published on Amazon.com
One of my very favorite subgenres of fiction deals with stories about the afterlife. I spend a rather indecent amount of time considering what life after death might consist of and my only completed work of fiction dealt with that topic. Touching the Surface has been on my radar because of its subject matter, its beautiful cover (which looks like the work of my friend Annie and fits the book perfectly), and the author's participation in the Apocalypsies. As ever when embarking upon a book with high hopes, I dreaded disappointment, but instead found a beautiful, quirky, emotional, clever, sweet, dark, magical read.
Sabatini's vision of the afterlife enthralled my imagination completely. She combines familiar concepts into something fresh and compelling. The concept of reincarnation has always called to me far more than most religious ideas, so I loved that Sabatini included that. She also put her own spin on it with the idea that, on a soul's third failure to reach some sort of enlightenment and whatever next step that brings, the soul's memories are wiped. This forces delving, a slow recapturing of the previous life's memories that allows for deeper reflection and analysis, removing preconceptions and errors kept in ordinary memory. Delving is also a group experience, not just a personal one, so that others can try to help the Third Timers figure out what has kept them from moving on.
Another fascinating element of this is the bodiless nature of the characters. They are all technically embodied throughout the book, but they have not always worn that body. In her first life, Elliot and her best friend Julia were twin brothers named Arty and Jim. The souls simply continue to wear the body and use the name of their last life until they reenter the stream to a new one. The souls can idenitfy one another by their scent that remains constant from body to body. Though she occasionally comments on appearances, the personality obviously factors in much more in how others seem to her.
The other main delightful quirk about the afterlife is the ability to manifest the mind's landscape physically. Thoughts can be created, from a lake to a mountain to a book the soul wants to read. Within the Obmil, this afterlife, the body cannot be injured and seems to have so much power. Not gonna lie, I would want to stay there and would try to get my friends to stay too. Of course, when you have a bad day, you literally will be stuck in a storm cloud of your own devising, but that's a small price to pay for the perks.
Alright, now that I'm done fangirling over the world building, I should probably discuss the plot a bit, shouldn't I? At the outset, I was a bit concerned that the book was heading for a stereotypical romance plot line: a rift between two best friends, a beautiful boy she feels inextricably drawn to (Oliver), a hot, angry boy who also seems to be part of her past (Trevor), and a love square between the four. Thankfully, this got cleared up pretty quickly and the characters did what was right for them, rather than conforming to tropes. Though the emotions become intense alarmingly quickly, it helped set the scene and conveyed the confusion Elliot felt being confronted with people who remembered her that she could not yet recall.
Elliot is a great character. She doesn't kick butt. She's sometimes weak. She's selfish, and sometimes a bully. All of that makes her who she is, and, even at her worst, I still felt for her and got her motivations. She manages to feel utterly real, especially in her struggle to find a sense of self, and her blithe unawareness of how she can steamroll others. Elliot wants to move on, hates having come back as a Third Timer, but she fears delving into her memories. Obviously, death in one's teen years doesn't signify a happy story.
The book alternates between the fantasy lanscape of Obmil and flashbacks to the characters' memories of their previous lives. This allows Sabatini to confront both gritty real life issues and psychological struggles. The flashbacks also explain why the characters feel the way they do about one another in the beginning, often for reasons even they don't know. This storytelling method adds a lot of tension to the tale and kept me flipping pages.
I dearly love Trevor. Oliver may be the nice one, though he shows some darker moods too (which I like), but I always have been drawn to the moody ones. Watching Trevor open up is delightful and he definitely puts hummingbirds in my stomach, let me tell you. What I love best is the way he changes the slogan on his t-shirt to match his emotions, generally with a smartass comment.
Ending books about the afterlife is generally pretty tricky, more so than with other genres perhaps. Sabatini's ending worked perfectly, I felt. I didn't anticipate quite the direction it would go in, and I really appreciated that. Nothing's wrapped up exactly, but it feels complete.
Kimberly Sabatini's debut blew me away and I know Touching the Surface is a book that I will be rereading. For a book with similar themes that does some wholly different things, check out Level 2 by fellow Apocalypsie Lenore Appelhans.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Surprisingly Powerful3 July 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
Ladies and gentlemen, buckle up because this is going to be one long review. Why, you may ask, is this going to be an exceptionally long review? Well, the answer is actually quite simple. This book made me feel so many different emotions. I loved it, then I hated it, then I loved it even more, but I went back to hating it. It's so wonderfully complex that I didn't know what to feel. And it took an insane amount of deliberation for me to decide on a rating that I think it rightfully deserves. But to write a normal length review explaining my journey with this novel would not suffice. It would not help to detail why I came to love it so much despite the rocky path we traveled together. And, in the end, I think a more detailed review will help make you understand why this book is such a hidden gem in young adult literature. I was not expecting it to hit me just as hard as it did.
The novel started off with Elliot emerging in the Ombil. The Ombil is a type of limbo--har, har, see the spelling?--where souls go when they haven't quite figured out how to grow from their experiences and where to continue on in life. So, pretty much, the book starts immediately after Elliot dies for the third time, but we don't know how she died. And it's not like some weird resurrection thing where she dies, this is more or less a cycle of reincarnation. When you complete your journey in the Ombil and learn how you can improve yourself and learn from the mistakes of your past life, you go and you're reincarnated into a life, and when you die in that life you head back to the Ombil where you have to work to regain your memories again to learn once more, but the people most important to you in the Ombil will always be known to you upon your return. You learn about yourself in a process called Delving where you open up your memories to the people around you in order to remember your past repressed life and learn from your mistakes. Complicated, but really easy to pick up on and certainly a unique and fascinating concept. It's made all the more better by the fact that this is the first afterlife book I have ever come across that excluded religion entirely. There was a conversation questioning the existence of Heaven and Hell, but there was not one religious reference, and I loved that. I praise Sabatini for giving us not only a really unique interpretation of the afterlife, but one that does not use such a novel as a way to force religion down ones throat. Such a thing is my biggest worry whenever I delve into a novel pertaining to the afterlife, and this is one of the many reasons that I think this book stands out.
But, back to the point, my biggest issue with the beginning of this story was that I really didn't like any of the characters, especially Elliot. Elliot was extremely self-serving and selfish. I have no other way to describe it. Someone tells her she needs space because Elliott is really controlling and it's all about her, only for Elliott to go off and rant about something inconsequential but it has to be super important because it's Elliott's belief. Oh, and at least twice in the novel, she literally said "Grrrrrr." I can't comment about that.Yeah, she's one of those. But as the book progressed, it became obvious to me that such characterization was entirely intentional. The purpose of this novel is to accept ones flaws and ones past mistakes and to grow with them. She wasn't mean to be likable in the beginning because she has yet to grow and as she grew, I really began to like her. This aspect of the story was meant to illustrate the point that if people let their flaws flourish, it makes them ugly. Elliott's disregard for others, her controlling nature, and her desire to always fish for pity and sympathies painted a really ugly portrait in the very beginning of the novel, but by the end of the book we went from seeing a ton of red dots across our vision to a beautiful storyline that had our hearts beating fast.
It did not help that the beginning of the novel was basically controlled by extreme emotions. These people just died. Trevor died minutes after Elliott did and he hated her upon his immediate arrival. These two went at it in the way that kindergarteners trapped in seventeen year old bodies only could. And it was slightly annoying because I felt there was no justification for any of it. It was all ruled by immediate emotional connections. And then, as I thought about it, I realized that these people just died. All they can do is operate off of first impressions and gut feelings. If these people had strong connections in their past lives, then they're going to feel strong connections in their afterlife's. However, the line between love and hate is thin when one can remember absolutely nothing about their past--so those two passionate emotions can be skewed and misinterpreted because of how powerful they are. Once I had this epiphany and realized that the emotional outbursts were attributed to unknown connections from the past being re-forged, I became really curious. But prior to that epiphany, I found myself gritting my teeth once or twice. In truth, I think that what the beginning of this novel is lacking is more of a back-plot. They died, I know, and I think that's a great place to start off, but I think more or less a back-plot to forging relationships in the Obmil and how the past can haunt you there instead of a variety of explanations about the Obmil itself would have been more interesting for me as a reader in the beginning of the novel. It would have given me a sense of clarity and an easier launching point for this story.
But, as I said before in my quick character analysis of Elliott, the story was very easy to adapt to once all the irrationality was thrown out of the window and bonds began to be forged correctly. Luckily, it did not take long for such a thing to happen, but if you ask me it took long enough. For example, I began liking Trevor long before I began liking our main character, Elliott. I'll go as far to say that I love Trevor's complexity and huge heart and just like Elliott because her emotions are still a bit too easily provoked for me. Trevor's one of the love interests in the story. He knew that he was connected to Elliott because they entered the Obmil so close to each other. They're both third-timers trying to get their lives in check. While he is admittedly frustrating, he's very charming as well. I found it easy to warm up to him for reasons that are still unknown to me. We'll put it this way, while he can flip from serious and angry to light and serene within a nanosecond, he always went back to his humble roots. He provided some form of comic relief via the sayings that would appear on his t-shirts, often there to antagonize Elliott, and this sort of playful-bullying made me like him even more. He reminds me greatly of the way I would interact with my male friends. Except, well, he's a love interest and I wouldn't kiss any of my guy friends. Ever.
With that in mind, I also want to point something out. From the synopsis above, I was under the impression that this story may have a love triangle in it. And everyone reading this knows how much I struggle with those unless they're done right. I'm happy to report that there isn't really a love triangle. There's a complicated web of love that allows us to explore familial love, friendly love, brotherly love, and true love. And while Elliott struggles to decipher this plethora of relationships and clearly identify the emotions that come hand-in-hand with each new form of love, there is only one true love. And while their story is definitely unconventional, I was rooting for these two so hard. So, so hard. Sabatini found a way to capture my attention and hold it until the very last page when the first hints of this romance began to crop up. While deliciously complicated and unique, it fits the complexity of both respective characters perfectly. The exploration of new forms of love was a nice touch, in my opinion.
The fact that there's symbolism everywhere in this novel was rather superb as well. Magnificent, really, the amount of symbolism that can be found with birds. I can't say I will ever look at an eagle or a crane (even one made out of paper) as if it was just a bird ever again. These two creatures symbolize so much more than I would have originally imagined, and they're used in ways to dictate ideals about life to us that can continue on into the real world once we leave the Obmil that Sabatini created with us in mind.
But what truly made this novel was so worthwhile is that it makes you think. You are constantly questioning things about the afterlife, about love, about living, about making mistakes. Literally, everything you can possibly think of questioning that'll leave you staring up at your ceiling contemplating life and your very existence into the late hours of the night are in this novel. They're obvious, they're hidden, but they're there. And they sneak up on you so quickly that you're easily overwhelmed with the expertise necessary to pull it all together. I never expected this novel to make me feel as much as it did, and while it did not drag tears out of me, it sure as hell made me feel. Sorrow, victory, redemption, anger, disappointment, loneliness, happiness, and most of all, it taught me that there's always hope for everyone. It made me realize that everyone, no matter how lowly they think of themselves, deserves to have hope.
With that being said, I have to say that I loved this novel. Once I began to like the characters because they got past the overemotional stage of death, I really started kicking myself for all of my feelings from the beginning. I went from wondering how I was going to write this review positively to realizing that I have to explain the torturous emotional process this book took me on to properly show how much the redemption of these characters eventually meant to me--including my misguided thoughts around the odd behavioral patterns in the beginning of the novel. While I'll openly admit it was not my favorite part, I will also admit that I understand the behaviors necessity now. For those of you wanting to read this, I'd recommend going in with an open attitude to emotional people instead of having them turn you off the way I did. If you do, this could seriously turn out to be a five star book for you.
I strongly urge many to check this out. If you like books that make you think and question a lot of things, read this book. If you like unique interpretations of the afterlife that aren't that religious, read this book. If you like a romance that is quirky and strange, but beautifully written and emotional, read this book. And if you like to be taken on an unbelievable journey of self-discovery, read this book. However, know that there is mentions of suicide and the occasional cuss word in here.
This book is just...so, so worth it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Oh, what a beautiful book!30 Oct 2012
Monica Bustamante Wagner
- Published on Amazon.com
I really loved this book, loved the voice, loved the world that Kimberly Sabatini built.
It's about a teenage girl named Elliot who dies and finds that she is in an afterlife but doesn't quite remember what happened when she was alive. Now she has to piece out her memories together, working hard, because she messed up in life (not saying more not to spoil it), and in this reality, you can't mess indefinitely. This is her last chance.
The story complicates with two boys, Trevor and Oliver, who were in her life once, and now they are in the afterlife with her. There's also her friend, Julia. Now Elliot has to delve in her past life with them and struggle to make things right.
This is a really beautiful book that deals with heartfelt emotions, like love and loss. The writing is beautiful, too, and the world and the characters just stay with you after you read it.