What a strange little book. I mean that (mostly) in a great way.
Fourteen-year-old Peter Green can’t remember how he died.
All he has are his pajamas, a silk tie, and a one-way bus ticket to Mrs. Battisworth’s Academy and Haven for Unliving Boys and Girls, a strange and spooky school for dead orphans like himself. But that’s all he needs: the Unliving Academy has everything, from vampires in the hallways, to monsters in the cafeteria, to ghosts in the basement.
And that’s just the teachers; the students are far stranger.
As Pete learns to fit in with his new supernatural schoolmates, he starts to discover his own uniquely undead abilities, and even begins enjoying his life after death…but he just can’t shake the feeling that he’s forgotten something (or somebody!) important.
Somebody he left behind in the land of the living.
Somebody he loved very much.
Somebody who’s in terrible danger.
Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is the captivating first installment of Angelina Allsop’s Unliving series of young adult fantasy novels. If you like reading about fun-filled adventures, fully realized new worlds, and the most unlikely of heroes, you’re sure to love Allsop’s spirited coming-of-age tale.
From the synopsis, I thought I was going to read a variation on the fantasy school story. The HP/PJO premise: average kid is plucked out of average life to have adventures at fantasy training school, makes good friends and bad enemies, fights evil, saves the day.
In some ways, Peter Green is that book–you get some of the usual dorm shenanigans and magical classes, and the student/teacher characters are variations on the typical secondary cast.
But there’s also some strange stuff going on from a story perspective, and it made this an unexpectedly interesting read for me.
From the synopsis, we know that we’re looking at a population of people who are already dead. This begs the question: what could possibly be the stakes in the story? I was worried the story wouldn’t be urgent or anchored to anything, but it actually found several sources of interest:
1- the mystery of who Peter is and how he died
2- investment in the people and world that Peter left behind
and, maybe most importantly,
3-just the fun of it. Angelina Allsop seems to understand that, while characters must have needs to power the book, not everything has to be about the Big Quest–especially in Middle Grade. If you’re not enjoying a book, spending too long swimming around in the setting will feel “padded” or “tangential,” but if you’re enjoying the writing and setting (as I was), it’s not always a bad thing to just spend a couple hours living in an inventive and creepy world.
Once the book hit its stride, it was often quite funny. I rarely laugh out loud reading, but a couple jokes in this one got me. For example, Peter’s schedule at his school for the dead:
“Mathematics for Unliving Souls, history of Afterlife, Personal Finance 1/Banking Systems, Introduction to Technology, Introduction to Death and Afterlife, Wood Shop”
That KILLED ME. Not even sure why.
The humor lulled me into a bit of a false sense of security, though. This book has a darker edge than most Middle Grade being published right now, and I was a little unprepared. Of course, the premise is dark (look at all these dead children!) but I wasn’t expecting the book to actually confront what that means… and it did. The climax in particular is raw and jarring and even a little moving.
Peter Green has some of the problems that often crop up in Indie and self-published works. I suspect the prose would have been a little tighter and the exposition a little clearer with the aid of an editor. In exchange for a little less polish, though, you get a book that’s inventive and rule-breaking. This is upper-upper-MG, the way that big five rarely publishes. There’s a real void for books that bridge MG and YA, and it was great to see a 14-year-old protagonist, who was able to be boyish while still handling more substantial subject matter.
This book is hard to categorize, but I totally believe there are readers out there for it–sharp young readers who want something a little dark (but aren’t ready for YA) and are hard to surprise.
You can learn more about the book and the author here:
I received a review copy of this title from the publisher at no charge in expectation of an honest review. All opinions my own.