Folklorist Berk enters the world of teen lit with mixed results.
In a town where ancient customs hold sway and the dead often linger, a young man named Silas searches for his father and learns that he may be destined to help move souls on. Berk knows a great deal about death and its attendant rituals and stories, but he doesn’t have the same facility with dialogue or characterization. Occasional incandescent moments—Silas’ journey to the dead’s gathering places, his efforts to reunite the souls of lost children with those of bereft mothers—fail to shine when crammed into a tale torn in too many directions. Plot necessities drive behavior: Mrs. Bowe, who plays the archetypal role of wise guide to Silas as he learns how to be an undertaker, is often and inexplicably reticent; Silas suddenly grows a backbone when needed but is otherwise intensely passive. Tighter editing could have streamlined the thematic clutter (search for a father, murder mystery, examination of family and responsibility, coming into power and, odd in a YA title, the pain of losing a child) and the tendency toward repetitive writing, but not the almost didactic underlying message (helpfully reiterated in the backmatter) about the importance of remembering the past and the dead.
Original ideas bog down in prosy, purpose-driven writing. (reading group guide, author Q&A) (Fantasy. 12 & up)