Title: It’s A Wonderful Death (2015)
Author: Sarah J. Schmitt
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy
Extent: 320 pages
Review: When seventeen-year-old Rowena Joy (RJ) accidentally dies because of a mistake a distracted Grim Reaper made, she is determined to save herself and get back to earth. The tribunal gives her a chance to redo three moments in her life and she takes it, believing that changing her choices in those three moments will inevitably change her future. The problem is that it’s not that simple… and that’s also before she gets caught in the power play happening in the Afterlife.
RJ was a spunky girl. She was sarcastic, snarky, strong, entitled, irritating, and irritated. I didn’t like her as a person until the end, but she was funny and entertaining, and she brushed off things like they meant nothing to her. She wasn’t overly bothered when she found out she had died, and she wasn’t overly bothered later on when [highlight to read spoiler] she died for the second time after her trial ended [end spoiler]. I felt like she was trying too hard to sound cool, and because of that, I didn’t feel like she actually wanted to return to the Land of Living. She just didn’t seem to care about much, if at all.
The other characters were a pleasure to have around, although I must admit that the spiritual cast enticed me more than the actual humans. Death is a broad-shouldered hunk who wears bright Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts. Saint Peter (yes, of the Bible) allegedly looks like Ryan Reynolds. Told from the eyes of RJ, these characters leave an impression long after they’re gone, and I was impressed by these little surprises that Schmitt set up for us. This made It’s A Wonderful Death fun and not too serious—a bit comedic, in fact, for a book where the main character (literally) dies.
My biggest gripe with It’s A Wonderful Death, however is that everything, and I mean everything, felt too easy. For one, the obstacles RJ faced so she could redeem herself weren’t that difficult to overcome, so in the end, I wasn’t fully convinced that she was a changed person. Sure, she showed some remorse, but I wasn’t convinced that she will now choose the ‘right’ things in life. Her trials were too easy, and I would have liked it better if she had gone through much more challenging things.
Secondly, there is no way this is the first time a Grim Reaper had taken someone else by mistake. It had happened so easily, so simply with Gideon and RJ, so surely it must have happened at least once before in all the centuries of human history. This could have been avoided if Schmitt had provided an explanation of some kind as to how the whole system works, but unfortunately there was none.
I also felt like it could have dealt with so much more. There were so many potential issues Schmitt could have explored: parents, grief, identity, friendship and bullying, death… instead most of the time it was just RJ hanging around, being sarcastic.
Overall, I enjoyed It’s A Wonderful Death. RJ was a good narrator to have if you don’t mind her bad-girl, forever-sarcastic, I-care-about-nothing persona. While I can see how some people might be disappointed by the ending, I think it’s a reasonable one given RJ’s history and character.