Noone, Gabby. Layoverland. Razorbill, 2020. 300p. ISBN: 9781984836120. $17.99. MS, HS, OT ****
On a very terrible day during which Bea ruins her best friend’s little sister’s life, she is killed in a car accident while wearing her least favorite pair of jeans. Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell, but what about all those people who were somewhere in between? It turns out they end up at The Airport, a kind of purgatory where everything is just as bad as in real airports. The food is all suspended in jello, the only music anywhere is the last song you heard while alive, but rendered in various forms of muzak, and the uniforms are polyester. What is Bea doing here? Apparently atoning for the ways she intentionally made people miserable on earth which she does by helping thousands of unresolved souls get to heaven using the Memstractor 3000. But wouldn’t you know it? The third soul she’s expected to help is Caleb, the boy who killed her when his car ran into hers because he also died in the accident that killed her. What’s the right answer in this kind of situation? Forgiveness? Confusion? Revenge? Or no, it couldn’t possibly, could it…be love?
Purgatory is ripe for satire, especially when mixed with just enough emotion to keep it from being slapstick. Noone has created a very funny in-between place and filled it with witty characters. The story is told by Bea herself alternating between her time at the airport and reflecting on her last days on earth. The focus is on her self-actualization as she is forced to confront how she behaved to her family and classmates while alive and at the same time has to decide how she’s going to be in death. All of this makes her an interestingly complicated character. The secondary characters (Sadie, her mentor, Jenna, her roommate, Caleb, the boy who killed her/love interest) also have their own complications. That’s another side benefit of placing a story in purgatory where nobody is entirely good or bad. The relationships between characters help to fill out a relatively quick story. It takes place over a short period of time in a very specific place and there are not a particularly large number of characters. Caleb is the only identified non-white character and his mixed-race Mexican lineage plays into the story in a few interesting ways. The real interest in this book is the mix of sweetness and saltiness, the philosophical musings about the nature of the afterlife (if you have a stroke while applying lipstick, does it stay on your teeth forever?) and the quirky rom-com vibe. No sex, no drugs, no swearing and a healthy dose of snarky humor make this appropriate for nearly all teens. Fall in love with Bea and Caleb. Or don’t. Either way, The Airport is a setting that will stick with readers.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library – Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch
Tags: Fantasy, Humor, Romance