Fantasist Booraem (Small Persons with Wings, 2011, etc.) turns her attention from art to another great human endeavor: death.
Timorous 12-year-old Conor O’Neill is scared of spiders, doesn’t want to play hockey and is dubious about leaving Southie to attend Boston Latin. When a banshee shows up, ready to keen for an imminent family Death, he is sent directly over the edge into terror. Who’s to die? His parents? His beloved, Irish-to-the-core grandfather, Grump? His “soul-sucking demon warrior” of a little sister, Glennie? Conor himself? Cripes. Rookie banshee Ashling needs her Death; it’s the only way she can move on from the Underworld and into a new life. Hoping to find a loophole, Conor, Glennie and an ailing Grump venture with her into the Underworld to talk to the Lady and undergo the test of the Birds in order to gain power over life and death. Booraem applies a light touch to her heavy subject. Iron Age–era Ashling eagerly, if inaccurately, adopts 21st-century slang and catches up with old Trivial Pursuit cards; the various denizens of the Underworld—a gleeful olio of afterlife mythologies—squabble like those who’ve been cooped up together too long. But she doesn’t avoid staring death in the face, saddling her likably unlikely hero with an agonizing decision that, though framed in fantasy, is all too gut-punchingly real.
Like Conor, readers will emerge from this adventure a little bit better equipped for heroism than before. (Fantasy. 10-14)