Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself. The tribunal presents her with two options: she can remain in the lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires, or she can replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will result in a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no-brainer. She’ll take a walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be? But with each changing moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel, until this self-proclaimed queen bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast. Too quickly, RJ finds herself back in limbo, her time on Earth once again up for debate. RJ is a snarky, unapologetic, almost unredeemable, very real girl. Her story is funny and moving, and teens will easily connect with her plight. Prepare to meet the Grim Reaper, who’s cuter than you’d expect; Hawaiian shirt–wearing Death Himself; Saint Peter (who likes to play Cornhole); and Al, the handler for the three-headed hound that guards the gates of Hell. This cast of characters accompanies RJ through her time in the afterlife and will do their best to gently shove her in the right direction.
It's a Wonderful DeathFeatured
IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH totally reminds me of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, just because of its title. Though the two works of fiction do indeed have a similar title (one word different), they have different themes and meanings. So, no. It isn't exactly for fans of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, a Christmas movie. Not exactly, not completely.
Okay. RJ is a total mean girl. She's the one girl who is always mean to everyone around her, and she is absolutely despicable. (I'm suddenly reminded of myself and my childhood bullies as soon as I read about her.) Some of her actions have been brought upon by peer pressure while other actions have been brought upon by the circumstances. But once she dies and has a second chance to fix those mistakes, RJ totally gets great character development. She changes, and yes, she does change from her evil self to a much better version of herself. And that is totally important. It's nice to see a redemption arc.
The beginning of the story starts off with RJ's snarky commentary. Gosh, she is an absolute riot and her jokes (sarcasm) are just hilarious. I love it very much. Unfortunately, the snark-ism starts dying off towards the middle and the plot turns very serious and a tiny bit dark. It explores the large consequences of a seemingly small action on a person. And like what Clarence from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE said, a single person affects a lot of people. (No, that isn't an exact quote. You may look it up for the word-for-word quote on IMDB.)
The end of the book is definitely one of the most surprising plot twist of all times. Yes, it is unpredictable, but the way the author ends the book is very satisfying indeed. I absolutely love it, and RJ does get the redemption arc she deserves.
The theme of the book is wonderful. That's all I have to say for it.
The world building is a bit intriguing, but I wish that the author explains more of it. I get that most of the plot twists are built upon what the readers don't know, but I don't exactly like the way I'm held and pulled along by the nose.
Overall, IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH is an unexpected, wonderful, and fascinating tale of a mean girl who is undergoing her redemption arc. This is definitely the kind of book that'll keep you reading long after your break is up.
Rating: Four out of Five
What worked: I really loved the snarky voice of RJ. She's not over the top mean but shows hints of vulnerability. For sure RJ is flawed as a character. She's not the nicest girl around and only cares about herself and her small circle of friends. What happens after a gypsy woman, at a psychic reading, pushes RJ in front of the Grim Reaper is hilarious. She tries to boss her way around the Reaper and those in the Afterlife. Schmitt shows us RJ's encounters with Saint Peter, the guardian of the gates of heaven, a tribunal of angels, and Death himself. There's a lot of fun lines and scenes that are very engaging and hilarious. It's hard to not like RJ. I laughed out loud more than once at her encounters with the heavenly hosts.
RJ's given tasks to see if she can change her timeline. Ghosts are sent to her to achieve these tasks. This gives the book a twist on the whole IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE idea only in her case her second chance changes not only her timeline but others around her too. These scenes were very insightful and showed readers the vulnerabilities hidden behind the mean girl mask RJ hides behind.
The trial for RJ to be able to come back to Earth does drag at times. The humor is lost and the story becomes a little more serious. It also is a little less funny when she does come back to Earth but this is when RJ finally arcs as a character. This part of the story is more insightful and reflective of her journey.
Another plus is this story is more a case of redemption for RJ and doesn't have a love interest that I think would have held this story back.
Mean Girls meets IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, this is a snarky, hilarious ride through the Afterlife and Earth with a memorable heroine who needs to face her selfish past in order to finally move on.
2. Snarky, hilarious tale where a Mean Girl meets her match with a Grim Reaper
RJ has just been told that she's to have a long life when she dies. It's a complete accident. The Grim Reaper wasn't even supposed to collect her, but now she's on her way to the afterlife. She tells everyone there how she's supposed to be alive, but everyone says it's just not worth it to send her back. It's eventually decided that she can go back if she goes through three trials. She will be taken back to three defining moments of her life and if she makes the 'right' decision this time, she will get her life back.
I love books dealing with any aspect of the afterlife. The afterlife is something that none of us can possibly know what it's like, so I find it very interesting seeing different author's takes on it. I really liked seeing this afterlife. While some of the subject and plot are serious, the afterlife is portrayed in such a oddly humorous manner that I can't help but enjoy!
The afterlife takes up the gist of this book, but this book is about RJ. RJ is the kind of character that you just don't particularly like, at least in the beginning. RJ is a mean girl and she has that personality. I sympathized with her because she was taken early and mistakenly, but she did annoy me. She did bad things in her life and made bad choices, yet she didn't seem to realize. That is what this book was about, because it was known that RJ could've had a different life. The reason why she was that way was because of her choices and mainly how she didn't stand up to her so-called friends. Throughout this book, she went through an incredible amount of change. I loved seeing how she changed in this book. I thought it was beautiful.
As for romance, there is none! This surprised me because I always expect that in YA, but I think it made the book so much better! Otherwise, we would have been distracted from the plot.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book! It was oddly fun at times, but with the serious-ness of a coming-of-age tale in death. This was a great read and it's yet another afterlife book that I can recommend to people!