The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, 400 pp, RL: Middle Grade
The perfect book at the perfect time is how I would describe The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand. For me, there is nothing more luxurious and delicious than spending hours at a time lost in a book, especially because it doesn't happen that often. Of course, the time has to be right (family, work and domestic demands rarely allow for this) but the book has to be right also, and The Afterlife of Holly Chase is THE RIGHT BOOK to lose yourself in during holidays ahead of us.Hand takes the plot of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and a spoiled (albeit wounded) brat of a teenaged girl, shakes them up in a snow globe of YA delights and delivers a uniquely magical holiday story of personal growth and learning to make meaningful connections with a dash of romance on the side.
While The Afterlife of Holly Chase ends with the titular character telling readers that Christmas is all about, "Connection. Togetherness. Love," she definitely doesn't start the novel with that understanding. Sixteen-year-old Holly Chase watched her mother, a beautiful actress, waste away from cancer only to have her father, a successful movie director, replace her with a celebrity fashion stylist. Rich, fashionable and famous, Holly copes with her grief by molding herself after her stepmother, alienating herself from her friends and family along the way, but convinced that she is doing the only right thing. Then her stepmother dies and Holly's family is splintered again. On Christmas Eve, after mercilessly berating her housekeeper, Holly is visited at midnight by the ghost of her stepmother, elegantly dressed and shackled with ropes and ropes of pearls, each one representing a person she treated unkindly in her life. The ghost warns her to change her ways, to choose kind, then the ghosts of Christmas Present, Past and Future take Holly on a journey that will convince her to change.
Except she doesn't. And then she dies in a freak accident the next day. She awakens to find herself at the New York City office of Project Scrooge, a top-secret, high-tech, semi-supernatural, international agency that works to rehabilitate a specially chosen "Scrooge" every year. When Project Scrooge fails to convince Holly to change her ways, she ends up, in a strange-limbo-zombie-like state between life and death, taking on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Six years later, Holly is still at work as the Ghost of Christmas Past, spending the months of April through November wandering through the memories of the chosen Scrooge, looking for key characters from their lives that parallel the characters from A Christmas Carol (Fezziwig, Tiny Tim, Cratchit, Fan, etc.) and pivotal moments from their lives that will serve as a wake up call when Holly visits them on Christmas Eve.
And, she is still the same Holly. Her work with Project Scrooge hasn't changed her, nor has her time off work, wandering the city alone and watching her father's movies at the Angelika. That is, until Scrooge 173. Ethan Winters III is not the usual rich, white, old man chosen as the annual Scrooge. Instead he is a rich, white, young man - seventeen years old, to be exact. Intrigued by Ethan's life (and his devastatingly good looks), and seeing parallels with her own, Holly gets a little too involved with her work. Along the way, and with a little help from her sweet young intern whom she treats very badly, Holly truly, believably, comes to embrace the belief that Christmas - and life - is about connection, togetherness and love. How Hand gets her to this realization - and the twists and surprises along the way - is wonderful and relatable and a little bit magical. I'm a bit of a Scrooge myself and stopped celebrating Christmas all together thirteen years ago when connection, love and togetherness took a hit after changes in my family. Reading The Afterlife of Holly Chase made me nostalgic for Christmases past, hopeful that there could be Christmases future and looking back into my own past for those pivotal moments when I could have made different choices.
The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a Christmas story, but really, it's a human story that everyone can enjoy, regardless of what holiday you celebrate. I hope this is a book that young people will read every year at this time and I really hope that movie rights have been sold because this will make an awesome film! Well done, Cynthia Hand!
**YA fans will appreciate what I think is an Easter egg in The Afterlife of Holly Chase: At Project Scrooge, the makeup artist who turns Holly into the Ghost of Christmas Past is named Leigh. http://www.leighbardugo.com/m/"target="_blank">Leigh Bardugo, YA author of Shadow and Bone, the first book in the Grisha Trilogy, worked as a makeup artist after quitting a steady job writing movie trailers before writing her best selling trilogy... Coincidence?
Source: Review Copy