As I delve more into the world of middle grade novels, I am continually surprised…pleasantly, I might add. For a girl (yes, I can still refer to myself as a girl at 38) who loves the romance included in many young adult novels, I was afraid to miss out on this in books for younger readers. But guess what, MG novels are not devoid of love; they just offer a different take, often in the way of friendship, familial love, or the early, early signs of romance, when two young people first realize there may be more to a relationship than friendship. What I’ve found is that all of these variations of love are just as gratifying.
This brings me to Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, by Dale E. Basye. Heck is Basye’s first book in his Infernoesque series, The Nine Circles of Heck. I listened to Heck on audiobooks.com, with fabulous, spot on narration by Bronson Pinchot! This is the story of Marlo and Milton Fauster (seriously, do name allusions get any better than that?) who, due to an unfortunate event at a shopping mall involving explosives and marshmallows, come to an untimely end and wind up in Heck, a sort of limbo for bad children.
Marlo is a destructive thief. It’s easy to understand why she ends where she does. But Milton? He’s a good kid. He didn’t want Marlo to steal that oar and do what she did with it. If he was any sort of accomplice, he was completely unwilling. And now, here he is, not only with Marlo but with Damian, the one responsible for Milton’s demise.
When the going gets tough, though, even siblings come together against pitchspork carrying demons and teachers like Richard Nixon, Mary Mallon (Tyhpoid Mary), Blackbeard the Pirate, Lizzie Borden and…Christian Dior? Even worse is the principal, she-demon Bea “Elsa” Bubb. Everything about Heck is torture, from the food (want to wash down some liver with a cup of castor oil?), to the clothing (hair shirt, anyone?), to the showers (mud). Not to mention, Damian, Milton’s sadistic tormentor in life, is now a sort of devil apprentice, looking for any way possible to continue making Milton’s afterlife, well, a living heck. There is only one option for Marlo, Milton, and Milton’s friend Virgil–escape…if they can.
Basye’s first book in the Heck series is as funny as it is dark, as bleak as it is hopeful. And there are eight more circles if you enjoy the first! As an English teacher, a student librarian, and now a parent of a school-age child, I am so delighted with all I’m finding that is out there for young readers. It’s also great fun to know that when my kids are a little older, I can read what they are reading and find as much enjoyment as they do.