“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Monday, August 19, 2013

Texting the Underworld ▪ Middle-grade fiction

August 15, 2013   Dial   Ages 10 and up
This totally fresh take on the afterlife combines the kid next door appeal of Percy Jackson with the snark of Artemis Fowl and the heart of a true middle grade classic.
Story:  Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is--as all banshees are--a harbinger of death, but she's new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school. As Conor attempts to hide her identity from his teachers, he realizes he's going to have to pay a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

"Got your cell?"
"Yeah . . . . Don't see what good it'll do me."
"I'll text you if anything happens that you should know."
"Text me? Javier, we'll be in the afterlife."
"You never know. Maybe they get a signal."

Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem's work "utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical." 

The story behind the story:  Author Ellen Booraem explains:  "I was researching another book idea, leafing through Abbey Lubbers, Banshees & Boggarts by folklorist Katharine Briggs, when a picture of a banshee caught my eye. It was a relatively young woman, hovering overhead and weeping. I was shocked—thanks to Walt Disney and a deeply fearful childhood, I’d always thought banshees were hideous shrieking specters. To the contrary, Briggs contended that they often were maidens who died too young, and who then spent their afterlives warning of impending deaths in their families.
Sounded like a book to me.

Each of my stories so far combines a human with a supernatural sidekick. It’s always the supernatural character who pops into my head first. I thought it would be fun to have a young banshee show up in an Irish-American household and see what happened. Obviously she’d be there because someone was about to die, so the most interesting protagonist would be a kid for whom that was going to be a big, big deal.

The result was Conor O’Neill, a twelve-year-old whose favorite person on earth is his grandfather. To up the ante, I gave Conor a potent set of fears (borrowed from his author): spiders, snakes, heights, closed-in spaces.

When the book starts, Conor is trying to get up the courage to squish a spider on his ceiling. Things go downhill (and underground) from there.


“Booraem applies a light touch to her heavy subject . . . . But she doesn’t avoid staring death in the face, saddling her likably unlikely hero with an agonizing decision that, though framed in fantasy, is all too gut-punchingly real. Like Conor, readers will emerge from this adventure a little bit better equipped for heroism.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Complex characters, a moving story line centered on family and courage, and plenty of exciting moments make this an appealing read for those fans of tales mixing traditional folklore with contemporary life.” –The Horn Book

Learn more about the author via her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  

And visit with Ellen on her blog tour tomorrow at The Modpodge Bookshelf. She's written a guest post on Being a Girl in Fifth Century Ireland. 



Lisa Gail Green said...

I'm drooling over this book! I can't wait to read it.

Sandra Almazan said...

Sounds great! And maybe it's a good thing if you can't get a cell signal in the afterlife.

Michelle McLean said...

Sounds so good! :)

Lisa Amowitz said...

Yay! Awesome!

Ellen Booraem said...

Thanks for hosting the give-away, Deborah!

And thanks for the nice comments, all.

Rhys A Jones said...

lore and tech--science fantasy is on the up!

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Love the premise of this book. Can't wait to read it!!

Deborah Sloan said...

Just be sure, ye commenters, to click on the "order your reviewer's copy now" link on the post to send an email to receive your copy. We can't wait to read what you have to say about it!

Laura Miller said...

When I received “Texting the Underworld,” I was pleasantly pleased as I began to read the story of the O’Neill family. Conor, a timid, self-aware, scared boy deals with the weight of his father’s goals for him along side his entanglement with a banshee predicting the death of a family member. Only the banshee, Ashling, knows which person will be lost. However, it is Conor’s job to find out who it is and save them along with dealing with his family’s issues.
When I first began the story, the author’s voice and word choice enchanted me. The book was entertaining and fun to read. The topic of death may be difficult if a young reader has just experienced a loss, so a caution is stated in this instance, otherwise I would give this book a five and rate it a first choice for any picnic basket.

Kathleen Moriarty said...

"Texting the Underworld" starts out slowly but the excitement builds as 11 year old Conor finds he has a banshee living in his house. Conor knows that the presence of a banshee means that someone nearby will soon die. Luckily Conor's grandfather is an expert in Irish folklore and know that you can choose to "test the birds" and have the opportunity to cheat Death. This, unfortunately for Conor who has never been the bravest in his family, means a trip to the underworld where he meets famous figures from mythology who welcome the newly dead to the underworld. Kids who like the Rick Riordan books may enjoy the connection to Greek and Roman mythology in this book. Celtic myths probably won't be as well known. Ultimately Conor has to make the most challenging choice of his life before the book comes to a satisfying ending. I would give the book a three.

Linda said...

There are a lot of new being published every day, but most of them do not meet the caliber of Ellen’ Booraem’s new book, Texting the Underworld. This funny, fantasy novel, takes place in the “real world” with occasional trips to the “Underworld”. The plot is interwoven with myths, stories of the “old country” (Ireland) and complications. It seems as if every time a mystery is about to be solved, another crops up.

It’s a book that teachers will love. It entices the reluctant reader, offers mythological references to the Percy Jackson fans, and invites the lovers of mysteries and opportunity to try to solve the many dilemmas that present along the way, has dashes of humor interspersed throughout, and is “just a fun read”.

The book is a unique and challenging read. Family and friendship relationships are explored and solved without being preachy. Each relationship builds upon the tension and drive in the story--secrets are hidden, told, and shared.

The expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” doesn’t hold true for this book. What I found unique is that the cover of the book tells a story as well. Ms. Vanderwoort is to be commended for designing the book jacket. It parallels the storyline precisely and the birds on the cover seem to invite yet challenge you to open the book and begin to read.

Children from ages 8 and up will love the story. The writing is crisp and holds the reader’s attention. As a teacher, I enjoyed the fact that Ms. Booraem’s use of vocabulary and imagery enhanced the plot of the book. “…for a minute, the whole world was merry blue with wedges of gray. Her breath was on his check, smelling like woodsmoke but also the fresh air when you came out of the subway…” What a delightful way to explore the author’s craft for budding young writers.

I give this book “5 out of 5”. I would recommend it to parents and teachers of reluctant readers. If this book doesn’t get them “hooked” on reading, I don’t know what will. I definitely am going to use this book as a read aloud as we begin our Readers Workshop unit on Myths and Tall Tales.

Jacquie Leighton said...

Texting and teens are synonymous ideas in my world. As a teacher of middle school aged youngsters, I am forever looking for engaging books and building my classroom library. My students learn how to find books which matter to them and will request titles for purchase...such an authentic way to build a collection. This book belongs in my collection. The topic of banshees is new to most of my readers so it 's terrific story angle to entice fantasy readers. I was most drawn to the banshee and her conflict. The protagonist left me wanting to know so much more about him. Often his inner story lapsed in the plot. I had a hard time really connecting with any one character but I wanted to so that's saying something. The texting didn't quite work for me...a bit illogical, but again I wanted to believe. I would read more books written by this author but would love to see more character development. Maybe I am biased and want a character read more than a plot read.

cyezak said...

I loved this book. I work with middle school and high schoolers and this fits them to a "T". The need to text is almost compulsive for them. My kids will love reading this book. They will enjoy the underworld scenes the best. Thanks for a wonderful book.

5 out of 5