Since my novel features the Devil in the title, it seemed appropriate for me to read HECK: WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO. I was intrigued by the premise, and once I started reading, I thought it was just so darn clever … but I’ll leave that for my five things I loved. First, here’s the blurb:
When Milton and Marlo Fauster die in a marshmallow bear explosion, they get sent straight to Heck, an otherworldly reform school. Milton can understand why his kleptomaniac sister is here, but Milton is—or was—a model citizen. Has a mistake been made? Not according to Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the Principal of Darkness. She doesn’t make mistakes. She personally sees to it that Heck—whether it be home-ec class with Lizzie Borden, ethics with Richard Nixon, or gym with Blackbeard the Pirate—is especially, well, heckish for the Fausters. Will Milton and Marlo find a way to escape? Or are they stuck here for all eternity, or until they turn 18, whichever comes first?
1. The names – The cleverness of this book starts with the names of the main characters–the Fausters. Anyone else notice the connection to FAUST, DOCTOR FAUSTUS, etc.? And that’s just the beginning. There’s the Principal of Darkness, Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the KinderScare for infants and toddlers, the Netherworld Soul Exchange (NSE), the Unwelcome Area, hall demonitors, and the Department of Unendurable Redundancy, Bureaucracy, and Redundancy. It goes on and on. And on.
2. The descriptions – I just love the way Dale Basye describes things. His use of metaphors is brilliant. When they die:
“Milton felt like someone had ripped a full-body Band-Aid off him, one that covered both sides of his skin, outside and in. Sure, you’d expect a fiery end at least to sting, but this sensation didn’t exactly feel ‘physical.’ It made Milton feel like a weird echo of himself.”
Or, when they arrive in Heck:
“They cautiously stepped out of the garbage pool into a small, sweltering cavern filled with thick, greasy smoke–a cross between a giant’s fireplace and the worst Upchucky Cheez restaurant ever. Above them, housing the spiral slide, was a towering stone chimney with no visible beginning. It was as if they had tumbled down a gargantuan garbage chute.”
I could go on with these examples forever. I was continually impressed by the way he could capture a scene using things and places that were familiar in a completely unusual and yet spot-on way.
3. The tortures – Some of the tortures he comes up with kids won’t get, but there are enough they will. A cafeteria full of brussel sprouts and liver, with tasty food protected by steel traps. One bathroom stall for all the girls to share. Lederhosen uniforms. Christmas Eve that never turns into Christmas day. On the adult side: never-ending traffic, waiting in line for a teller only to have your number called and be told it’s time to close. Think of something you hate, and he probably included it.
4. The teachers – Lizzie Borden teaching home economics. Richard Nixon teaching ethics. The inventor of Coca-Cola (I assume because he doesn’t name the soft drink) teaching chemistry. Blackbeard teaching metaphysical education. Maria Von Trapp making a guest appearance as an angel doing an exchange teaching position. Need I say more?
5. The ending – Usually I have a good idea what the ending will be in a book–not how they will get there, but what will ultimately happen. This story was different. Obviously the goal was escape, but they’re dead, so what did escape mean? While the ending made total sense once it happened, it wasn’t what I expected, especially as I know this book is the first in the series. I’m not going to give it away. I’ll just say well done, Mr. Basye.
A couple of other notes. Boys will love the bathroom humor. There’s a lot of it in this book. That part didn’t appeal to me, but it’s worth mentioning for those who do enjoy it. Also, this book does an excellent job of standing alone while leaving several questions unanswered to make you want to read the next one.
Has anyone else read this series? What did you think?
For querying authors, Dale Basye is represented by Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.