Oliver Dalrymple has the undesirable nickname of “Boo” in his Illinois middle school. The nickname originates because of his pale completion and hair that’s always staticky. At age thirteen, he’s more focused on the periodic table and scientific facts than hanging out with other people his age. In the first few pages of Neil Smith’s debut novel, Boo, a tragic event happens and Boo finds himself literally knocking on heaven’s door. Unaware of the facts and details about what’s landed him on heavens doorstep, he sceptically enters to find that his version of heaven contains young boys and girls who all appear to be the same age as him, thirteen year olds. He quickly learns that although everyone looks the same age as him, some residents have been been in heaven for much longer, although their appearances don’t change. He also learns that each and every one of the people living in heaven is from America.
As someone who functions on fact and logic, Boo/Oliver can’t seem to wrap his head around the logistics of this newfound world he’s entered. How did this happen? Why can’t he find his Mom and Dad and how can he convey to them that he’s alright? Why don’t people physically age? None of it makes sense. Then something crazy happens. He finds out that he’s not the only one from his middle school that lost his life that day. His classmate Johnny was also killed and he’s got a vendetta in place. Sure, Boo is distraught and gets upset knowing that he’s no longer able to talk to his Mother and Father, but Johnny has a completely different agenda. He’s determined and focused on who would take their lives. He wants answers and he wants them now. Of course, Boo and Johnny are an unlikely pair, as the two were not what you’d call pals in their middle school. More like acquaintances, but because of the unlikely circumstances the two find themselves in, they pair up to solve the mystery of their deaths.
When I first started reading Boo, I kept getting the same feelings I felt when I read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Reading a book about children or teenagers entering heaven isn’t easy. That being said, besides the fact that both books are set in heaven, the similarities end there. This book takes a completely different path that isn’t always an easy path, but man oh man, is it imaginative. Neil Smith has written a book unlike any other I’ve read before. For instance, the first sentence in the book is,
Do you ever wonder, dear Mother and Father, what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven.
I’m always mystified at an authors ability to think outside the box like Smith has done in this novel and I can say with full certainty that I’ve never thought of what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven. The amount of detail and quirky elements weaved into Boo‘s plot had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading the book, I really couldn’t put it down. From the beautiful and expressive cover to the bond formed between two unlikely boys, Boo was a novel written with a lot of energy and bewildering imagination that I think will have everyone talking. Fair warning, you will cry, so ensure you have tissues nearby when reading. Neil Smith’s debut fiction is on sale now.