[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/4842812]
After a fatal marshmallow explosion, Milton and Marlo Fauster find themselves in Heck, a kind of boarding school for kids in purgatory. Apart from the shock of being dead, Marlo is kind of okay with the whole situation. This is the kind of school in which she could finally excel. Milton, on the other hand, has no idea why he's in Heck instead of attending harp lessons in the sky. And he's determined to rectify the situation.
This is a hilarious take on the afterlife, with a lot of gross-out humor (they crawl through sewers that service both "the surface," where the living poop, and all the toilets in Heck). I think that middle grade readers, or even some younger readers who really like potty humor, will enjoy the story and the adventure as Milton, Marlo, and their friend Virgil try to break out of Heck. There is a lot that is outrageous through the whole thing such as preschoolers addicted to phonics, demons dressed up as other demons (who happen to look like the thumb-thumbs from Spy Kids in my head), and an accidental trip to adult purgatory: a never ending traffic jam. But there is also a lot that is normal like horrendous cafeteria food, an overbearing gym teacher, and a big bad (human) bully, reminding Milton, Marlo, Virgil, and the reader that all of this is happening to regular kids.
My main problem with Heck is that I don't think the average middle grade reader, the reader this book was written for, will get a lot of the jokes that I thought were really really funny. Nixon teaches the boys ethics class. Lizzie Borden teaches girls' anatomy/biology. The headmistress is named Bea "Elsa" Bubb and actually says, "You mess with a demon, you get the horns," when she thinks she's discovered the escape plans (213). I read a lot of things and watched a lot of stuff that contained jokes and/or innuendos that flew right over my head when I was a kid, and I still enjoyed them. But so much of this book depends on jokes that not every 9yr old will have the background knowledge to understand, that I wonder how it is actually received by its intended audience.
I, not remotely the intended audience, thought it was really funny. I won't be rushing out to buy the second book in hardback, but I'll probably give it a look when it shows up in paperback. There are nine circles of Heck mentioned (Limbo, Rapacia, Blimpo, Fibble, Snivel, Precocia, Lipptor, Sadia, and Dupli-city). Since the second book is Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck I can only infer that the boarding school the first book was set in was Limbo, and there will be nine books total if Basye gets his following and his way. It'll be interesting to see how many of his readers make it through all nine before they outgrow the poop humor and/or if they'll stick with it because they start to get the cultural references and jokes.
Book source: I bought it.