Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go - by Dale E. Basye

Although I tend to enjoy young adult fiction, I generally don't read books intended for "tweens" (10-12 year olds). I remembered reading a review of this one a few years ago though and was intrigued by its irreverent premise: a brother and sister, Milton and Marlo, are "darned to heck" when one of Marlo's escapades leads to their untimely deaths. Although Milton has an otherwise spotless record, his one indiscretion, only moments before his death lands him in the same circle of heck as his more spirited sister. And, as if dying were not enough of a punishment, the two must also go to school in their afterlife. Their education in heck is overseen by spiteful Principal Bea "Elsa" Bubb. The siblings team up with overweight Virgil and the three make a plan to escape their nasty eternity.

This book is actually pretty fun, and the puns are rather clever. I even found myself laughing at the scatological humor, which I usually just find puerile. Of course a place as bad as the sixth circle of heck would not have anything like a good library, nevertheless, Basye manages to demonstrate their importance.

Milton is a nervous child and we not only learn that reading anything including toothpaste tubes and cereal boxes calms him, and that he "only felt truly safe when tucked between the covers of a book", but also that when his therapist told him to go to his "happy place" whenever he felt anxious he imagined himself in a "musty library full of books". While in heck he must also "pretend that the powerful stench that prickled his nose was intoxicating perfume of paper, dust and old wooden desks...simply a case of mind over fecal matter."

Finally we see this library metaphor near the end of the book: during a standoff between Milton and  Bea "Elsa" Bubb she as "stood still as a gargoyle on top of an old library".

A quick fun read, clearly written to appeal to middle school boys, but middle-aged librarians may also find it to their liking.

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