Saturday, March 04, 2023

Afterlove, by Tanya Byrne

Ash and Poppy meet on a school trip and embark on a whirlwind romance that quickly turns serious. For Ash, this comes as a surprise because she's never had much luck in her previous relationships.  The two girls are from drastically different socioeconomic situations.  In spite of that, her doubts are swept away as she becomes convinced that Poppy is the one whom (in the words of Death Cab for Cutie) she'll "follow into the dark." Poppy is a keeper and Ash is starting to consider how to introduce Poppy to her conservative family.

But then Ash is suddenly struck down in a hit-and-run and dies on New Year's Eve.  As the last teenager to die in the year, she is assigned the role of "reaper" to help guide the recently deceased to the beach and to Charon's waiting boat to take them to the afterlife.  Life as a reaper, while ostensibly similar to Ash's life before, has its own set of rules.  Key amongst them is that, while people can see you, you don't look like you did before.  Only those who are about to die can see the real you.  She is also warned away from visiting friends, family, and (especially) Poppy.  But Ash can't resist the temptation and when she goes anyway she is hit with a rude shock when Poppy can actually see her!

An interesting paranormal romance with a split personality.  The first half plays out as a typical teen lesbian romance, with a lot of struggling over whether to come out to their families.  There's some lovely character building here between mother and daughter, and we get a real strong sense of the tension between Ash's intense feelings for Poppy and her loyalties to her family.  It's thus a big shock in the second half where the focus is entirely on Ash's superficial relationships with her fellow reapers and the doomed romance with Poppy.  The family is barely mentioned and her mother is forgotten.  Moreover, the second half is not even that interesting.  The potential drama of finding out that your girlfriend is about to die is not really developed.  Another potential flash point with a head reaper Deborah (and a really easy potential replacement for Mom) remains a cypher -- an utterly wasted character.  The story disappoints.

I did love the not-safe-for-Florida cover art though!

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