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Reviews Mon Sep 28 2015

Ascenders, Neither Heaven nor Hell

Ascenders Cover Image 2.png

"No, this isn't heaven. It isn't hell. It's high school."
- C.L. Gaber, Ascenders

Walker Callaghan is your average 17-year-old suburban Chicago girl; she just happens to be dead. After a car crash, she finds herself in a middle realm that looks a lot like Michigan, where she attends The Academy, a school intended to teach the "Unformed" enough so they can ascend. In a world where there are no rules because you can't die twice, Walker falls for her classmate, bad boy Daniel Reid, and grapples with how to cope with loss--of life, and of those she cares about most.

The second book from young adult author, C.L. Gaber, Ascenders positions itself neatly among the most popular young adult series of the past decade. Combining the best parts of Divergent and Twilight, The Academy feels much like Harry Potter's Hogwarts where casual rule-breaking is overlooked by the administration in favor of learning more important life lessons (pun very much intended).

One of the most exciting features of The Academy is the inclusion of deceased celebrities who elect to teach courses at the school. I won't give too many away, because I don't want to spoil the surprise or delight that I had when I figured out who was who, but let's just say the "Fruit Appreciation" class has nothing to do with food since it's taught by a bespectacled man named "Steve."

Chicagoland residents will be particularly smug when they recognize references to Milwaukee Avenue, the El, DeVry University, the wealthy residents of Lake Forest, and a couple famed former residents of the city, although I will admit that one appearance gave me nightmares.

Gaber's focus on character shines through in her physical descriptions and character voices. With the more grotesque characters, she does not hold back, and there were some places that made me shudder to imagine them. A couple of the dead characters tell their life (and death) stories in their own voices, leading you to form strong opinions about them.

On the flip side, repeated descriptions of Daniel Reid's various "rock hard" body parts and the pauses for death storytelling slowed down the narrative for me. Though one death story gives us useful information to apply later in the book, I'm not convinced that we needed a lengthy description of how the cheerleader kicked the bucket.

Though the reader begins the novel knowing Walker is dead, Walker seems to focus more on questioning why she fell asleep in Chicago and woke up in "Michigan," than why her teachers at her new school are famous dead people who insist on being called by their first names. Once she does finally learn that she's dead, she rages childishly and selfishly against her mother, which made me wonder whether Walker was 17 or just self-absorbed.

Despite any shortcomings, I had fun reading, and I would recommend Ascenders for a young adult reader looking for a good ghost story with some teenaged love mixed in. Because after all, Ascenders is best summed up by the principal of The Academy: "I can only tell you it will be an epic adventure. It will be the adventure of an after-lifetime, as I like to call it."

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