The Otherlife ( Ages 14+ )
By : Julia Gray
Publisher : Penguin Random House ( July 2016 )
What is lying there between the "other life" and "this life"? Maybe a thin line of powerful imagination and intelligence in plenty. Ben and Hobie, fueled by their extensive supply of fresh thoughts, take us across their fascinating world of mythology.
It`s dark, gloomy and tragic. But it sounds very real! Even those gods of Asgard and monsters: Baldr; the handsome god, Fenrir and Skoll; the wolves, Loki the mischievous one; the son of a giant. Frigg mother of Baldr; who travels across the world asking every single living thing to not harm her son! They all came to life in Ben`s mind slowly but fully as he learns the "other language" -Old Norse- from his beloved tutor, Jason. However, the long forgotten 'Otherlife' comes back to him a few years later. On the wake of a heavy metal night, in the wee hours of his first day of GCSE, he receives a message from the messenger god "Hermodr" about a death . Ben is disturbed and wonders who died! With his flustering visions of gods and his throbbing headaches, he tries to continue his normal schedule but feeling too distressed and lonely he decides to contact his beloved ex- tutor Jason who had helped him immensely in the past - and that`s when he hears a shocking news. Ben is determined to find out everything that happened.
Ben is a poor, talented, intelligent and lonely teenager who`s also deeply troubled by his parents' marriage issues. Their quarrels and his mother`s obsession with Ben`s exams and her constant reminders that he has to maintain his scholarship, altogether causes an unbearable pressure on him. He finds his solace, in the night by sleep walking, by day with heavy metal music, pain killers and through the mythological world introduced to him by Jason, the kindhearted and understanding young tutor whom Ben loves so much. And now, those gods of Asgard seem to guide Ben in the absence of Jason.
Hobie, on the other hand is a mischievous, energetic and self-centered boy, sometimes a class bully, wealthiest at the wealthy children`s school, with a stable household and steady parents. But he is frustrated and unhappy about his life, again thanks to his ambitious mother who`s obsessed with his scholarship and overprotective of him. His only comforts, before becoming friends with his classmate Ben, were rugby, playing "cruel" tricks on others and extensive indulgences into lavish food available abound in his household.
The story comes to life through Ben`s memories and Hobie`s diary. The tricky story lineup keeps up the captivating effect along with riveting detail and rich atmosphere. It reveals the complexities of a heavy demanding, highly competitive and forlorn student life as it cleverly brings out the downside of an almost outdated education system. The young people who would recognize the dark humor and mockery of the author`s descriptions ( " ...Miss Flower who had been reading an Excel spreadsheet from a wedding catering company while pretending to mark some books,..." ) may find some fun amongst those gloomy pages of Ben`s life.
Hobie wants to become friends with Ben for at first he seems to be different from others. Later, because Ben has something he doesn't have: " The Otherlife" - Hobie wants that too... ; Hobie describes the rest of their "8 Upper" class as "Super-geeks, the 'Greekists', the teeth-grinding, book-toting weirdos, the Gifted and Talented lot who can't even speak properly, some of them because their brain works too fast for their mouths." As days pass, their friendship moves into a trusting platform where Hobie`s love and admiration for his friend grows deeper and he becomes more caring. But their good times end too soon. Hobie`s beautifully written diary is at times funny, annoying and traumatic, and sometimes heart-breaking. It will entertain readers and keep them engrossed. And it will assure that with all his mischievousness and bad tricks, we still adore Hobie and grieve for him.
One could feel the enormous amounts of power and spirit blocked inside these young boys; and their need to be free of it all as they pace across the wilderness around Davella Hall;Horbie`s country house, pretending it to be Asgard lands and believing in their dreams, hearts beating to heavy metal music. Their innocence and vulnerability are so obvious to any adult/talented reader who, while sympathizing with them, may wish that they had mothers who understood them better.
Years later Ben returns to Duvalle hall wanting to know the truth and to solve the mystery of Jason`s tragedy guided by the dead metal heroes and his Norse gods......... In the end readers will weep not only for Baldr but for Loki as well.
Ben and Horbie along with the others in their world will linger in the back of our memories long afterwards. A sparkling fantasy-mystery! Beautifully written and heartbreaking, full of vivid and extreme characters that address YA readers as well their parents.
( With many thanks to Penguin Random House and Net Galley for the ARC )