A teenager imagines how a corpse could become the neighborhood kids’ source of amusement, companionship, and legend in this debut illustrated book.
White narrator Jay and his friend Carl, who is black, grow up as “just poor city kids with a faint spark of hope,” finding simple joys where they can. When they were younger, they could form a club or make a fort; now they’re old enough for “girls and sports.” When a fancy hearse glides down the street, Jay and Carl are taken with its style, the narrator thinking he’d be proud “to posthumously cruise town in such taste.” Carl agrees, asking Jay to ensure that he gets a last cruise in a hearse. If the funeral is expensive, “have the hearse drop me off in some random ravine.” The idea sparks an extended fantasy in which Jay imagines how entertaining it would be for a couple of kids, maybe in fifth or sixth grade, to discover Carl’s body. They’d start a club centered on Carl’s corpse with games, “gross inspirations, / And grosser initiations, / New heights of grossness, new legends untold.” Carl, who in life would have been childless, could in death watch these kids grow up. And, even if the original discoverers outgrow Carl, they could find a replacement and “leave the body on a lawn, / For new kids to poke, prod and cherish.” In his short, humorous book, Edwards tells the story in triolet pairs rhyming AAB, CCB, with somewhat uneven scansion. More importantly, the tale has an offbeat sense of the macabre that’s original, surprising, and fun: Stephen King’s The Body meets Sesame Street. The idea that a corpse dumped in a bog could become a secret friend and clubhouse centerpiece is bizarre, yet children are fascinated by death and lured by the power of knowing something that adults don’t. The author’s illustrations have a cool, distinctive style, depicting elongated limbs and wedgelike noses. Watercolorist Hayes, in her debut, effectively contrasts the subject matter with a soft, attractive palette.
A morbid yet warmhearted fantasy about the circle of death.