A taciturn teen finds solace as a funeral director–in-training.
Aaron Rowe speaks few words aloud and initially reveals little to readers about his life or what haunts him. Instead, they are taken with him under the wing of John Barton, one of two funeral directors in a small Australian town. "We don't want to bring them back to life," Barton says of the bodies Aaron helps him prepare for funerals; "we only want to give them dignity." This sentiment holds true throughout. Scenes of encountering, moving and dressing dead bodies are quietly and carefully observed, and the physical realities of death—smells, bodily effluvia, decay—are described frankly but respectfully. Meanwhile, Aaron dreams about death and sleepwalks, waking up sometimes miles from home, and Mam, the woman he lives with in a caravan park, becomes less and less lucid while awake. Aaron's and Mam's disorientation provides a chaotic counterpoint to the somber but orderly world of JKB Funerals. Skye, the Bartons' precocious and blunt daughter, adds both warmth and levity. Each plotline is woven skillfully in among the others, and each is resolved with gravity, dignity and care. The sense of family—both found and lost—is palpable throughout.
Simply told and powerfully moving. (Fiction. 14 & up)