For me, this needed just a little more dark elements to balance out the schmoop, which is a thing I’m still not fully on board with in terms of Klune’s writing, although it hit me less here than it did in Cerulean Sea. But overall this was a lovely read, like a warm hug.
While I do have some criticisms, mostly to do with an overdose of earnestness and not enough subtlety (also known as schmoop), I really did enjoy this book. It was an escape into another world for a day and a half, and I liked my visit there. The idea that there are people in the world whose jobs are to help people move on to the afterlife, but like in a cozy way, I find very pleasing. I also very, very much enjoyed this book when its main character, Wallace, was leaning hard into being an asshole. Being dead doesn’t stop you from being a real dick, and I loved that about that character. My problem with Wallace is that I thought he cleaned up his act in too neat a fashion. I wanted to see more of the hard work, the transition, and we mostly just skip over it. The effect is a bit of a tonal clash, as the book heavily leans into satire at the beginning, and then transitions to the emotional equivalent of a goopy s’more sandwich.
The other darker element that really helped to balance out the earnestness was the idea that there are some spirits that Hugo, Wallace’s foil and eventual love interest (despite that one is dead and one is alive), cannot help, and that if a soul wanders away and doesn’t come back, they sort of decay and turn into aggressive, rotted out haunts. I thought the story could have leaned into these darker elements a little more, and that would have helped a lot.
I do want to give the book a pass, though, despite my criticisms. It seems to have been a labor of love and grief for the author, who recently lost his partner. If this book is exactly what he needed to write to work his way through that, then I’m glad it exists exactly as is, and I hope it finds readers who will get what it’s going for on more of an instinctual gut level than I did.