I included Once Dead, Twice Shy because it is the first young adult book by the author of one of my favorite adult paranormal series. Many books from Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series have won (or been nominated for) P.E.A.R.L.s and awards from Romantic Times (retrieved August 1st, 2009 from http://www.kimharrison.net/Media%20Page.htm).
Series Title: Madison Avery
Author: Kim Harrison
ISBN-10: 0061718203 ISBN-13: 9780061718205
City and Publisher: New York: Harper Collins
Copyright Date: 2009
Author’s Website: http://www.kimharrison.net/
Reader’s Annotation: Madison Avery is dead. But that isn’t stopping her from crushing on guys, making new friends, and pondering the existence of fate or free will.
Plot Summary: After Madison Avery is scythed by a dark reaper at her prom, she somehow manages to steal his corporeal-body-generating amulet. Madison must come to terms with her not quite dead existence by learning the finer points of mind to mind communications and the preservation of free will from Barnabas, her light reaper tutor. As she learns more about the seraphs, the reapers, and their human timekeepers, she realizes that there is more to what’s happened to her than she can see. She must figure out her place in the order of the heavens, all while avoiding certain destruction at the hands of a dark reaper with a grudge.
Critical Evaluation: Kim Harrison writes The Hollows, a popular adult paranormal series. The Hollows is a lot of fun, with vibrant characters and a world that is an interesting twist on reality. The Madison Avery series so far has a lot of similarities. Madison is a sassy, offbeat girl who does things her own way. She has a tiny cherub guardian angel that protects her and gets under her skin. Unfortunately Madison’s world falls a little flat. The seraphs, reapers, and cherubs plonked down in the middle of a plain old suburban town are not quite enough to gleefully engage the imagination. There is also something about characters that never sleep that exhausts the reader. Everyone needs a little downtime, and if the main character isn’t given any, the story seems to plod into a tedious overdrive. Nevertheless, Madison’s struggle with free will and fate is an interesting dichotomy, and one that will resonate with the increasing self-determination of adolescents. Madison’s habit of not following (or even understanding in some cases) directions and arriving at unimagined destinations is another wonderful parallel with a teenager’s experience.
Reading Level/Interest: Age 13 and up
Curriculum Ties: Once Dead, Twice Shy is an interesting exploration of afterlife myths, and may be a good addition to classes dealing with that topic. It is also a great just for fun read.
Booktalking Ideas: Ask teens if they believe in fate and let them discuss. Talk about Madison’s premature death and struggle with a world where she doesn’t know what to believe.
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Grim Reapers, Angels, Psychic Powers
Influences from Other Genres: Romance
Challenge Issues: Once Dead, Twice Shy is a pretty calm book. There is no sex, or even kissing, and most of the violence is averted before it has even begun. Some readers may not care for the way the mythology is built up in the book; angels who transgress may choose to take the path of the light or dark reaper. Light reapers defend human choice and are bound to the Earth while dark reapers carry out the will of the seraphs by executing humans who have the potential to wreak great havoc or harm. Seraphs and angels also employ Guardian, Reaper-Augmented Cherub, Extinction Security (or G.R.A.C.E.S.) in order to protect endangered humans. Cherubs have a lot in common with Tinkerbelle, being tiny, giggly beings of light. Christian readers may feel this mythology makes light of or misrepresents their own beliefs. However, this playful twist on heavenly beings serves to illustrate the basic human plight of choice in the face of the divine. In Once Dead, Twice Shy Madison remains conflicted on the way of the universe. She makes no choices which would contradict the Christian belief system. Also, the angels with flaws are earthbound while the perfect beings remain in heaven. The two sides of earthbound angels remain evenly matched throughout the book, and no decision is reached on which side is right.
About the Author: Kim Harrison also writes fantasy novels as Dawn Cook, and has gone so far as to have completely separate wardrobes and even a wig for appearances. For the release of Once Dead, Twice Shy, HarperTeen organized a mini-tour along with Kelley Armstrong, Aprilynne Pike, Melissa Marr, and Claudia Gray. (More details at http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2009/05/kim-harrison-secret-identity.html)