“'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.