In Syben’s debut YA novel, a teenage girl learns life’s lessons—in the afterlife.
Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Elizabeth
Whitmore is killed in a boating accident while on a first date and returns to
consciousness to find herself an angel at her own funeral. She also discerns
the presence of Lydia, her late great-grandmother, who’s been sent to lead her
to heaven and fill her in on the details of her new existence. Chelsea
discovers that she’s to be part of an angelic combat squad, under Lydia’s
guidance, charged with aiding living people and landing blows against Satan’s
minions. As if to prove that the divine has a sense of humor, Chelsea’s first
assignment is to look after her own bully, Sidney Sappington, and two of her
bratty friends. The girls’ lavish late-night antics lead to a confrontation
with a stalker; thanks in part to Chelsea’s and Lydia’s monitoring,
though, the perpetrator is caught. Their next job flings them onto the
19th-century frontier to first protect a woman named Abigail and then her
daughter, Maggie, as each braves demons, wildlife, and conniving fellow
travelers. After that, Chelsea and Lydia visit the remains of Baltimore in 2902
to reunite Chase, a downtrodden divorcé of modest means, with his son, Fred,
despite Chase’s ex-wife’s attempts to separate them. Chelsea’s successes merit
an encounter with the Creator himself—and result in a revelation that weaves
the previous chaotic episodes together. This spunky novel is full of verve and
inventive scenarios, and its underlying moral insights never seem contrived or
didactic; all the knowledge that Chelsea gains she earns through her own
experiences and choices. Syben’s ambitious blending of sci-fi/fantasy
motifs—such as time travel and Dantesque forces of spiritual good and evil—pays
off in an easygoing, well-timed story that’s unhindered by its own complexity.
Aside from this scenery, the novel’s themes are simple but not pat; the
question of what makes for a good life looms large—even if the protagonist
isn’t technically living.
A wily, tender bit of Christian-oriented fantasy
that’s also likely to entertain the skeptical.