Sebastian and the Afterlifeby William j. Barry
paperback, 281 pages
Published February 2011 by The Writer's Coffee Shop
Read June 2011
My friend wrote this book. He's kind of my neighbor, too, as he only lives 1.5 miles from me. His wife and I worked together for a while. He happened to be published by the publishing house I work part-time for. I'm also mentioned in the acknowledgements, which is very cool, but I tried not to let any of this influence my review.
Sebastian and the Afterlife is the first book in this fantasy series for young adults. As such there is a lot of setting up the world, which William's overactive imagination has conjured into being. What is this new world you ask? It is the realm between mortal life and the afterlife. It is were the ghosts of the recently deceased wander while completing that which keeps their souls from passing through the archway and into the peaceful afterlife.
It is an interesting concept and you often forget the characters are dead as they maintain many of their human qualities with a few new powers at their disposal. It had quite the feel of Harry Potter to the story - the group of young friends, trouble seeming to follow them, and of course the evil character that is out to take over the world (at least this realm). At the same time it had its own uniqueness - the friends are all ghosts, there are pirates, and the Grim Reaper is the protector and guider of the souls into the afterlife.
I remember having many discussions about what age group this story is appropriate for. William wondered if the topic of death would be too dark for younger children. Having read the story, I am pretty sure that 4th and 5th graders can handle it. It actually may help them not to be so afraid of death. In this story the Grim Reaper is not the scary, evil dude that so many other stories make him out to be. I was thinking about why we think the Grim Reaper is so scary. I think it has to do more with our fear of death than the Grim Reaper himself (ok, the dark cloak and sickle don't help his image either). But when viewing him more as a guider between the mortal realm and afterlife and seeing that the afterlife is not a scary place, lessens the fear of death. For an older kid (middle school/high school) reading this, it might help them see that they are not invincible or maybe cope a little if they have experienced the death of a close friend or family member. The death is not graphic and like I said you often forget the characters are ghost (until they float through a ceiling).
For a first book in the story it was amusing and engaging. As a more mature reader, I found some of the explanation a bit tedious, but then I had to remember the audience it was intended for and they might not be able to infer as much from the text as I could. There is no terrible cliffhanger at the end of the story, yet the ending is left open enough for more adventures with Sebastian and his band of ghostly friends to be told and I'm looking forward to what else William has in store for them.