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.