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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.