In this short book for readers ages 12 and up, a masked figure in black comes to prepare a girl for her upcoming death.
As this fablelike tale begins, a mysterious entity appears one night in the bedroom of Tabitha Wilkinson. Though sweet and pretty, Tabitha looks ill and is also nearly hairless but for a few strands and a little fuzz. As for the black-clad figure, she’s about Tabitha’s size, but her face “strongly resembled a mask, complete with red string tied around the back,” with a crack on it like a contusion. The figure explains that she’s here to inform Tabitha of her impending death and serve as her guide. Tabitha takes this news well, asking many curious questions about the guide and her work. Back in her realm until she returns for Tabitha, the guide begins pondering the questions she couldn’t answer when the sick girl asked them: her name and how she died. She talks to other guides, who do remember these things about themselves, and then to Death himself, where she learns how guides are chosen. When it’s time to collect Tabitha, the guide learns the secret of her name, how she died, and why she’s the girl’s escort, redeeming the tragedy of her own death. Parker (Autonomously Yours, 2015) has a wonderful ear for tone in this lovely, spooky tale. A young girl’s death could easily become subject to the cheap macabre or cheaper sentimentalizing, but Tabitha is more robust than that. When the guide advises keeping the visit secret, lest loved ones be caused unnecessary distress, Tabitha replies: “Cause them distress? I’m the one who’s perishing.” She’s also intelligent, discovering through research that the guide can be called a psychopomp: “ ‘And my question to you is which do you prefer? Psycho or Pomp?’ said Tabitha, and she sweetly laughed, then not quite so sweetly wheezed.” That’s amusing, raw, and poignant in perfect balance. Finally, the author brings out the connection between girl and guide in a way that makes beautiful sense. One could only wish for more illustrations (beyond the cover) to capture Parker’s well-described images.
A gem of a tale about facing death: wise, wry, and moving.