Thursday, August 15, 2013

Blog Tour: Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem

319 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Group (USA) Inc., August 15, 2013. 9780803737044. (Review from arc obtained courtesy of the author/ publisher)

Conor, aka Pixie, O'Neill is a worrier. Okay, he's a scaredy cat. He's scared about everything but especially scared of spiders. He's also a rule follower. He chews his food fifteen times before swallowing not to decrease male flatulance, which is why his mother made the rule, but because he's terrified of choking to death. He lives in a duplex in "Southie," the Irish neighborhood in south Boston with his parents and ten-year-old sister Glennie, who is fearless. Grump, his grandfather lives next door. 

Grump appreciates Conor, says he has the "O'Neill spark. He also loves Conor's hand-drawn maps, especially the Land of Shanaya.  Conor loves his grandfather and enjoys his knowledge of Irish folklore. Mostly. Even though after hearing Grump's story of the kelpie, a man-eating water horse, he stayed out of the water for an entire month.

Conor's dad has no patience with Conor's worries nor with his father's stories, especially regarding banshees. So when a car alarm goes off during dinner one night and Grump announces that it's a banshee, Conor's dad is dismissive. Conor? Not so much. Later that night, while stalking a particularly gruesome spider the size of a pencil eraser, Conor  hears a sudden wail, the likes of which he never heard before right outside his bedroom window. 

     "It was as if all the sorrows of the universe had erupted
     at once. It was a car alarm from just north of hell, a jet 
     screaming into Boston Harbor, all sould lost. Subway 
     wheels shrieking on a track known only to rats and 
     zombies." (p. 18)

Conor finds himself flat on his back from the shock of it all. He looks up to see the spider scurry across the ceiling unharmed. He looks toward his bedroom window and watches a red-blond head poke through his window. She apologizes as she floats through the window, makes herself at home in Conor's Celtics bean bag, solidifies, except for her right foot and introduces herself to Conor. 

Her name is Ashling and she's a brand new banshee. She has been dead for hundreds of years thanks to a well-placed ax to the head and the Lady has given her a chance to move on. She's not about to mess this death up. Someone in the O'Neill house is going to die. It's only a matter of time. But first Ashling is intensely curious about this modern world of electric appliances, video games, Trivial Pursuit cards and middle school.

Conor needs to protect his family. Conor needs to find a loophole. Even if it kills him.

Oh, I have never laughed so hard! This is one of the funniest books I have read in a while. But while I laughed so hard that I cried, I warn you, there will be real tears shed. Someone is going to die, but what an inventive, surprising and satisfying journey this was!

As usual, Ellen Booraem (The Unnameables and Small Persons with Wings) has constructed a unique, complex story featuring fully realized and flawed characters. I loved each and every one. Grump, Glennie, Javier, even the bickering denizens of the Underworld. Even now, weeks after first reading the story, I can open the book randomly, start reading and feel like I never left. 

Ms. Booraem also weaves the death mythology of a variety of cultures, as well as Irish myth/ folklore in such a way that I would not be surprised if I met up with a banshee. I would love to meet Ashling. Lord was she a hoot! 

This is middle grade fiction at its very best. I can't wait to get it into my student's hands come September. It's definitely one for the reread pile and I'm hoping there are plans for an audiobook, maybe read by Nathaniel Parker?

Other stops on the tour:
Ellen's web site

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