Guest Review: Radiance by Alyson Noel

I recently put out the call for help in getting through my stacks of review books. Sure enough, my lovely readers graciously offered to pitch in. Here is the first of many guest book reviews to come. Ladies and gents, give it up for Kathy!

Radiance by Alyson Noel -- Guest review by Kathy of Mom Crusades

Click here for book details. (Not an affiliate link.)Riley Bloom is a typical twelve-year-old girl with parents, an older sister, and a dog. Only thing is, Riley Bloom is dead.

In Alyson Noel's novel Radiance, we meet Riley moments after the car accident that claims the lives of her and her parents. Her older sister, Ever, is left on the "earth plane," which is how those who die refer to the place of those who are living.

Noel doesn't trouble herself with terminology like "Heaven" or "Afterlife." Instead, the author humorously dubs the place above the clouds "Here."

"And if you're dumb enough to ask what time it is, they'll say, Now. Probably because there's no time Here, which means everything happens, well, in the moment it happens, which is always just - now.

So, I guess you could say I live in the Here & Now."(page 5, Radiance)

Riley isn't ready to be dead just yet. She's feeling a bit cheated, knowing she'll never physically be older than twelve, missing her sister, Ever, and her friends. Instead, Riley lingers between the earth plane and Here. Though Noel skims over it, I'd like to read more about this part of Riley's journey, but Noel instead moves us forward to Riley in the "Here and Now," as she prepares for her first day of school.

"Here," Riley lives with her parents in a house just like the one on the earth plane. In Riley's world, the dead also sleep, and while they dont need to eat, if you enjoyed the taste of food on the earth plane, why give it up simply because you're dead? "Life" goes on pretty much Here as it did "there," except you're dead.

But, angels don't have wings unless they want them, and the teacher at Riley's new school is a guy named Perseus who likes to sing Rolling Stones songs to greet the students. If you want something, you can "manifest" it - want that bowl of Lucky Charms for breakfast? Think hard on it, and it will appear. Same with money, clothing, or houses. You need to think carefully, literally, because other members of Here can hear your thoughts - which could prove embarrassing if you aren't careful.

It's at school where Riley learns what her new destiny Here is going to be. Like many kids of all different ages, Riley is very concerned about what she'll wear and "manifests" several different outfits before settling on the right one. She meets "cheerleader girl," who is friendly enough to share a few things with Riley - but all too soon, the students are dispersed and the only one not knowing where to go or what to do is Riley. Asking another student what to do yields nothing but a nightmare answer for any newbie.

"We go to our assigned place, and you go to your assigned place," the guy before me said, glancing over his shoulder long enough to tack on a not-so-polite-sounding, "Where else?" (Page 22, Radiance)

Thankfully, Riley is assigned a job as a Soul Catcher and a teacher named Bodhi, whom she immediately calls "dork boy" in her mind. She has a difficult first assignment: guide a Radiant Boy, who has been dead for centuries, to cross the bridge to Here.

New readers of Noel's work might wonder why Riley is so reluctant to leave her sister Ever, and why Riley's parents "didn't realize [Ever] needed me in a way they could never even begin to comprehend"(page 10). Readers will definitely be hooked after the first page and enjoy Riley's observations and experiences in the Here and Now.

The only thing that annoyed me with the reading was Noel's use of sentence fragments, which didn't always enhance what she was writing about. It kind of slowed things down, made me re-read to be sure I hadn't missed anything.

Overall, Radiance is a gently humorous story, but touches just enough on the deep questions of life to make it a read that will linger with you after you've finished.  As Ebert would say, "two thumbs up."