2009; Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins); ISBN 978-0-06-177679-3
Summary: Maddy comes to in a dark, limitless place. It's not anywhere . . . it just Is. Surrounding her, though, are things that she's lost. Since she was always losing stuff, there's a lot of items: keys, a bracelet, a purse, some orchids . . . But the strangest thing about all this is that when Maddy touches an object, she's sent back to when she lost it. Sometimes, Maddy can alter things, finding what was lost. Maybe Maddy can connect all this to the biggest thing she's lost: the memory of how she died.
My Humble Thoughts on Why This Book Was Shortlisted For the Morris Award
#1: A believable take on teenage relationships.
Friendships and romantic relationships are complicated for anyone. For teens, these connections are even more fraught. Maddy, who is emotional and sensitive, has difficulties with several people in her life. She's insecure about her boyfriend Gabe, worrying that he'll break up with Maddy and start dating the ex-girlfriend who still wants him. She gets annoyed with her best friend Sandra, who will drop everything to do whatever her mother asks. Maddy's feelings, although self-centered and even paranoid, are honest. All of us have felt such unflattering emotions, even about those we're closest to. It's part of becoming an adult that you learn to deal with these kinds of feelings. Maddy won't get that opportunity--but in her death she gets a similar chance at learning that lesson.
#2: An intriguing look at what happens after death.
The afterlife continues to exert a pull on writers and readers. In The Everafter, Amy Huntley creates a new take on death. By touching a lost object and reliving the memory of losing it, Maddy can even change the outcome. It's not an afterlife of observation alone; Maddy can make an impact on her life. But there are limits: if she changes the event, she loses the memory of how the event first occurred. And if Maddy finds the lost item in her memories, she cannot return tot he memory. All these aspects give a richness to this imagined purgatory. By exploring what could happen after we die, Huntley lets Maddy--and the reader--gain a greater respect for what happens before that event.
#3: A clear approach to an intertwined storyline.
As the reader dips in and out of Maddy's life, it would be easy to lose track of story points or become confused. Yet Huntley preventst hat from happening with how she structures the flashbacks. You don't have to start at hte beginning to tell a story; in the same sense, you dont' have to go to Maddy's first memory to begin seeing her past. Huntley picks certain moments, one that have meaning not just for the story but for Maddy and other characters. It's a great example of how a stylistic device can be both elegant and practical. Many of Maddy's flashbacks are set in her recnet past, but others are older, one even from her infancy. This sort of whimsy lightens the story, as well as providing a character beat. Throughout the novel, the flashbacks are contrasted with Maddy's current state, showing the differences between the land of the living and the world of the dead. And it's done in a tone that's straightforward and natural.
Over the last few years, no doubt inspired by the popularity of The Lovely Bones, ther have been several YA novels exploring death. From The Book Thief to Elsewhere to If I Stay, there are as many version of the afterlife as there are stars in the sky. Amy Huntley's perspective seems to be of a world that allows contact with the past, even correction of its events. Yet it's not without a cost, and such questioning and manipulation doesn't change destiny. You can't prevent your death, and you can't stay in limbo forever. Eventually, you have to move on to the Everafter. That's what Maddy realizes, and it's a powerful message. The epilogue feels tacked-on, muting the power of Maddy's last moments, and the subject matter is perhaps too common. Yet these flaws do not greatly detract from an intriguing debut novel.