Do you ever wonder, dear Mother and Father, what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven? I will tell you. . . . This book I am writing to you about my afterlife will be your nitty-gritty. One day I hope to discover a way to deliver my story to you.

It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth grader; aspiring scientist; social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of a place called Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys’ deaths.

In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo’s great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends; and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover a disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.

Hilarious and heartwarming, poignant and profound, Boo is a unique look at the bonds of friendship in what is, ultimately, a book about finding your place in the world—be it this one, or the next.

“Utterly believable. . . . The plot of Boo has real-life resonance for the author, who was on campus at the Université de Montréal in 1989 when a 25-year-old man, Marc Lepine, shot and killed 14 female engineering students. . . . Magical in its setting and plot, there is also a strong element of fable to the book. . . . For all its dead characters, the novel is alive from the outset. Town is a captivating landscape, far away from Hollywood notions of heaven.” —Irish Times
 
“Remarkable. Even without the elves, [Boo] is definitely a work of fantasy, set in an afterlife unrecognizable to adherents of any religion. . . . What gives the novel its vitality . . . is that the fantasy in this case is comic. Its Heaven is a shabby version of an American junior high school, with all its rules and its school spirit and its fun educational activities—and also its cruelties. . . . It is part of Smith’s artistry to leave open the question of whether he’s making fun of religious believers, or rationalists, or both. The reader is in no need of an answer: there’s enough entertainment value in his chronicling the adventures of two American lads in their parallel universe. . . . A pleasure to read. The sensibility is wry, the story compelling despite all the undertones of irony. But it is the sprightliness of the language that matters most.” —National Post
 
“A book worth picking up. Smith's writing is fluid and precise, and his characters' voices feel authentic and comforting. A twist in the story and an adventure that spins out of the main tale will keep readers turning pages until the very end. . . . A fascinating look at what happens when our minds grow while our bodies remain unchanged, all set against the backdrop of the anguish and struggle of forever being a teen. It also gives us a moment to reflect on who we might be if we were a little less ‘ourselves’—our edges softened and our worst traits altered just enough to make us better and maybe even happier selves. . . . In a market seemingly crowded by vampires, wizards and dystopian futures comes a unique and fresh take on the young-adult fantasy novel. Part mystery, part leap of faith and part never-ending junior high classroom, the afterlife created by Canadian author Neil Smith is one never imagined in a Sunday-school classroom. . . . Smith's quirky afterlife is a unique vision of what heaven might be.” —Winnipeg Free Press
 
“A delicious plum pudding of perspectives on spirituality. For starters, the novel is a half-tribute to, half-send-up of Waiting for Godot.” —Melanie Jackson, Vancouver Sun
 
“Part murder mystery and part coming-of-age story, Boo is a fresh take on life, death, and friendship. . . . Smith’s first novel is testament to his immense imagination. . . . Boo not only finds himself in an unusual situation, he is unusual (in the most charming sense). Told from [his] perspective, the novel is reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. . . . Boo is honest, direct, and funny. . . . [His] deadpan tone and droll sense of humor are wonderful devices used to separate the tone of the book from its dark material. . . . Smith instills a sense of discovery, surprise, and authentic teen observation into Boo. This mixture makes the novel a realistic coming of age story, despite its unconventional setting. The book is categorized as YA, but the relationship between Oliver and Johnny is complex and tender in a way that transcends many of the rehashed romantic relationships YA novels make front and center.” —Pop Matters (8/10 stars)

“A breakout debut from Smith. . . . Life can be pretty weird at 13, and it turns out the afterlife gets even weirder: When Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple, a gangly, eighth grade bookworm, dies of a hole in his heart just before first period one day, he finds himself in Town, a Burton-esque resting place reserved exclusively for those who die at thirteen. Soon after Boo's arrival, Johnny, a former classmate, appears in Town and brings with him some grim news about the circumstances surrounding their premature passing. Together, the boys form an unlikely alliance to embark on a mission to find more answers. . . . Boo is a quirky page-turner that takes readers on a poignant, and at times dark, journey. If you liked early 2000s indie Wristcutters, you're going to love this.” —Nylon, “Summer Reading Guide”
 
“For a novel centred on death, Neil Smith’s debut—following a critically acclaimed collection of short stories—brims with vitality. . . . Original, wickedly funny and avoiding overt sentimentality, Smith’s writing is consistently assured. As Boo matures and learns the value of mercy, forgiveness and friendship in a strange democratic heaven, his story proves both moving and surprisingly hopeful.” —Financial Times

“A phenomenal book by a singular talent. . . . In short, I fell in love with Boo Dalrymple. It has been ages since a character in a novel captured both my attention and my heart to this degree. . . . The first-person narrative can be an overused tool leading to lazy writing, but in Smith’s talented hands, it simply washes over the reader, gently pulling us into the heart of the world being created. . . . Boo is one of the most genuine literary creations that you’re likely to find in any book this year. . . . The power of Smith’s prose is undeniable. His story unfolds in a manner that somehow manages to be complex in its simplicity. The characters he creates, this wonderful expression of a place built by people who are 13 for five decades—it transports you, plain and simple. The world of Town is a richly realized, utterly unique take on the possibilities of the afterlife. That vision of heavenly segregation would easily be the most brilliant part of most literary efforts; instead, it simply serves as a perfectly prepared canvas on which to paint the portrait of the sweet, smart, sad Boo. . . . Boo is an extraordinary book, full stop. No qualifiers, no ifs, no ands, no buts. It is a wildly compelling, unique story brought to life by a fascinating narrator.” —Allen Adams, The Maine Edge
 
“An original and masterfully told debut novel, a dark and deeply affecting depiction of the hereafter. . . . Smith delivers a splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing in a unique afterlife.” —Largehearted Boy

“Perfectly drawn. . . . An insightful look at serious issues affecting today’s teenagers—bullying, mental illness, suicide and school shootings. It is the kind of book that should be taught in high school English-lit classes across the country. . . . Surprises pile up as mysteries are solved. The result: Boo is a definite page turner for both adult and teen readers.” —Ottawa Citizen
 
“An adventure story, and a fable about friendship. . . . In Boo, Smith brings his off-the-wall imagination to a whole other realm: the afterlife. . . . He tells us what kind of toothpaste they use in heaven (baking soda), and what kind of houses they live in (red-brick dormitories that look like housing projects). He tells us that there are no insects in heaven and that people get high by smoking chamomile leaves instead of dope. . . . [Boo] might seem lighthearted . . . but there is an undercurrent of deep loss.” —Montreal Review of Books

“A very fast-paced, original and inventive story, with a foundation in emotional intelligence, honesty and flaw. . . . The voice of the scary-smart weird teen, in tandem with the narrative setting, leads you to think this is some crossover between The Lovely Bones and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though the book exhibits qualities of both, it takes a quick turn to Lord of the Flies. . . . [The] novel’s thematic questions—a terrifying high-wire act—are huger than huge. Smith ventures to convey a reality about bullying and mental health that is far braver than any you’ve ever read, as Boo is a spelunking adventure deep into the caves of life, death, good, evil, mortality, loss and grief. . . . The construction of plot is unlike any you’ve ever seen. . . . You’ll find that the very devastating thoughts of this thirteen-year-old are shockingly intimate, relatable and, in their own way, true.” —Lambda Literary

“Compelling and increasingly poignant. . . . One minute 13-year-old Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple is standing in front of his locker at Helen Keller Junior High School reciting the periodic table to himself (yeah, he’s that kind of boy); the next, he wakes up in bed in a place called Town. . . . The story Boo tells is endlessly intriguing and entertaining as it contemplates the presence—or absence—of God, whom the kids call Zig, while revealing surprising and disturbing truths about the [character’s] previous lives and deaths. Fans of the offbeat will think they’ve died and gone to Town—er, heaven.” —Booklist (starred review)
 
“[Smith] has hit a home run with Boo. . . . All ages will find the novel disturbing, humourous, and absolutely authentic. . . . As the tale unfolds, it becomes darker, richer, and ghoulish, while the spare, conversational prose never patronizes either its reader or diverse cast of eccentrics. . . . Be prepared for surprises. Big surprises. And a desire to reread the entire novel to note the clues missed in the first go.” —Quill & Quire (starred review)

“A splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing  in a unique afterlife. . . . Smith smoothly develops his vision of an afterlife in which a theoretical god supplies random items from the living world, electronics run without power, and kids are left to their own devices. The story is never about providing solid answers, but readers who appreciate that sort of ambiguity will find that the emotional payoffs are both surprising and moving.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“A touching tale of what friendship and growing up can mean. Oliver Dalrymple, whose pallor earns him the nickname Boo, is a precocious 13-year-old at Helen Keller Junior High when he suddenly dies in front of his locker. He reports this on the first page of what will be his book-length effort to explain the afterlife to his parents. Smith has fun presenting the slightly off or odd details of a limbo called Town where those who have ‘passed’ are gathered with others of the same age—13 in Boo’s case—to live in ‘three-story red-brick dormitories,’ work simple jobs, and abide by a few rules before entering another phase after 50 years. It’s Lord of the Flies without pig slaughter and privation. . . . The novel has an understated message about gun control and bullying and is a fine portrayal of Boo’s emergence from the carapace of fear, distrust, and solitude he grew for himself in his short life. Smith is often amusing in cute and clever ways, but there’s a slyer, more satisfying humor in the twins Tim and Tom Lu, who owe something to Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and -dee.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Instantly charming, never predictable, quietly profound—Boo is both literarily and literally haunting and, in the end, devastating.” —Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of Seconds and the Scott Pilgrim series
 
 “Part murder mystery, part existential adventure, Boo is an utter charm-bomb of a novel. Neil Smith’s version of the sweet hereafter shows not only that heaven can be hell, but answers the eternal question of whether it’s better to be dumber with friends or smarter without.” —Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
 
“Neil Smith has created a heaven where the sadness and triumph of life aren’t flattened or diminished but heightened and intensified. Just like you always suspected it would be. Boo is sad, beautiful, heartbreaking and impossible to put down.” —Andrew Kaufman, author of All My Friends Are Superheroes and Born Weird
 
Boo is an astoundingly original novel and Neil Smith's take on the afterlife is convincing, moving, and often funny as hell. A vision equal parts Murakami and South Park.” —Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes
 
“Who knew heaven could be so funny, so perilous, so exquisitely alive? Boo is a work of singular genius: an adventure story, a mystery and a profound meditation on childhood, lost innocence and the power of friendship to save our lives—and afterlives. I believe in Neil Smith’s heaven, with all my heart.” —Jessica Grant, author of Come, Thou Tortoise
© Julie Artacho
NEIL SMITH is a Canadian writer and translator. His novel Boo won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and was nominated for a Sunburst Award and the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award, and was longlisted for the Prix des libraires du Québec. Smith published his debut book, the short story collection Bang Crunch, in 2007. It was chosen as a best book of the year by the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail, won the McAuslan First Book Prize from the Quebec Writers' Federation, and was a finalist for the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. Three stories in the book were also nominated for the Journey Prize. Smith also works as a translator, from French to English. The Goddess of Fireflies, his translation of Geneviève Pettersen's novel La déesse des mouches à feu, was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for Translation. His latest novel is Jones. View titles by Neil Smith
1. H.

Do you ever wonder, dear Mother and Father, what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven? I will tell you. We use baking soda sprinkled on our toothbrushes. It tastes salty, which comes as no surprise because baking soda is a kind of salt known as sodium bicarbonate. 

You never wonder about toothpaste in heaven, do you? After all, you are agnostic. But even believers seldom ponder the nitty-gritty of their afterlife. Thinking of heaven, they imagine simply a feeling of love and a sense of peace. They do not consider whether the pineapple they eat here will be fresh or come from a can. (We actually receive both kinds, though certainly more canned than fresh.) 

This book I am writing to you about my afterlife will be your nitty-gritty. One day I hope to discover a way to deliver my story to you. 

As you know, I died in front of my locker at Helen Keller Junior High on September 8, 1979, which was exactly one month ago today. Before I died, I had been reciting the 106 elements from the periodic table. My locker number (No. 106) had inspired me, and my goal was to memorize all the elements in chronological order. However, when I reached No. 78, platinum (Pt), Jermaine Tucker interrupted by smacking me in the head. “What the hell you doing, Boo?” he said.

I told you once that my classmates called me Boo on account of my ghostly pale skin and my staticky, whitish blond hair that stands on end. Some of them considered me an albino, but of course I am not: a true albino has dark red or almost purplish eyes, whereas mine are light blue.

“Boo! How ironic,” you may say, “because now our son is a ghost.” You would be mistaken, of course, because this is not true irony. Irony would be if Jermaine Tucker had said, “Wow, Boo, I truly respect and admire you for memorizing the periodic table!” Respect and admiration are the opposite of the feelings I aroused in Jermaine and, for that matter, most of my classmates. 

Did you realize I was a pariah? If you did not, I am sorry I never made this clear, but I did not want you fretting about something you could in no way control. You already worried enough about the inoperable hole in my heart and had long warned me about straining my heart muscles.

Jermaine walked off to class, and I continued undeterred with my count as scientists Richard Dawkins and Jane Goodall watched me from the photographs I had taped to the back of my locker door. For the first time ever, I reached No. 106, seaborgium (Sg), without stealing a peek at the periodic table hung below the photos of Richard and Jane.

My feat of memorization, however, must have overexcited my heart because I immediately fainted to the floor. I could say I “gave up the ghost,” especially in light of my nickname, but I dislike euphemism. I prefer to say the truth simply and plainly. The plain and simple truth: my heart stopped and I died.

How much time passed between my heart’s final chug in the school hallway and my eyes opening in the hereafter I cannot say. After all, who knows which time zone heaven is in? But as I glanced around the room where I found myself, I certainly did not see the clichéd image of heaven. No white-robed angels with kind smiles gliding out of a bank of clouds and singing in dulcet tones. Instead, I saw a black girl snoring as she slept in a high-back swivel chair, a book at her feet.

I immediately knew I was dead. My first clue: I saw the girl perfectly even though I was not wearing my eyeglasses. I even saw the title of her book (Brown Girl, Brownstones). Indeed, I saw everything around me with great clarity. The girl wore blue jeans and a T-shirt with a decal of a litter of angora kittens. Colorful beads dangled from the ends of her cornrows, and they reminded me of the abacus you gave me when I was five years old.

I lay in a single bed covered in a sheet and a thin cotton blanket. Other than the swivel chair, the bed was the only furniture in the windowless room. Overhead a ceiling fan spun. Hung on the walls were abstract paintings—squiggles, splotches, and drippings. I sat up in bed. My naked chest seemed whiter than normal, and the bluish arteries marbling my shoulders stood out. I peeked under the blanket and saw I was not wearing a pajama bottom or even underwear. Nudity itself does not bother me, though: to me, a penis is no more embarrassing than an ear or a nose. Still, do not assume I had found the Helen Keller gym showers, for example, a comfortable place to be. That communal shower room was a breeding ground for the human papillomavirus causing plantar warts. And on two occasions there, Kevin Stein thought it would be sidesplitting to urinate on my leg. 

“Excuse me! Hello!” I called out to the girl in the swivel chair, who woke with a start. She stared at me wide-eyed.

“May I assume I am dead?” I asked.

She lurched out of her chair and hurried over, accidentally kicking her novel under the bed. She grabbed my hand and squeezed. I yanked it back because as you know, I dislike being touched.

“You ain’t dead, honey,” she said. “You passed, but you’re still alive.”

“Passed?”

“We say ‘passed’ here instead of ‘died.’ Passed like you did good on a math test.” She gave me a smile that exposed a gap between her front teeth wide enough to stick a drinking straw through. When she sat down on the side of the bed, it listed because she was heavy. I once read an article on longevity in the magazine Science that claimed that thin people lived longer. To offset my holey heart, I tried to prolong my life by keeping a slim physique. Needless to say, my efforts came to naught.

“Let me introduce myself,” the girl said. “My name’s Thelma Rudd, and I’m originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, where my family runs the Horseshoe Diner.” She asked what my name was and where I came from.

“Oliver Dalrymple from Hoffman Estates, Illinois,” I told her. “My parents have a barbershop there called Clippers.” 

“Do you know how you passed, Oliver Dalrymple?”

“I believe I died of a holey heart.”

“A holy heart?” She looked puzzled. “We all have holy hearts up here.”

“No, I mean my heart has an actual hole in it.”

“Oh, how terrible,” she said and patted my leg.

Thelma went on to explain that she belonged to a group of volunteers known as the “do-gooders.” “I always sign up for rebirthing duty here at the Meg Murry Infirmary,” she said. “I like welcoming newborns like yourself.”

I asked how long a “rebirthing” took.

“It’s over in the blink of an eye.” Thelma blinked several times. “A do-gooder’s always on rebirthing duty at the Meg. We never know when we’re gonna get a package.”

She patted the mattress, and I eyed the bed, its rumpled blanket and its pillow with the indent from my head. The bed did not look mysterious or miraculous in any way. “We just materialize here?” I asked.

Thelma nodded. She gave me a probing look, eyes so deep-set I figured she, too, once wore glasses. “You know, hon, you’re the calmest newborn I ever did meet,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe the hysterics I seen in my nineteen years in Town.”

“Nineteen years!?” I said. “But you look my age.”

“Oh, we’re all thirteen here.”

This particular hereafter, she clarified, was reserved for Americans who passed at age thirteen. “We call it Town,” she said. “Us townies believe there’s lots of towns of heaven. One for every age—one for people who pass at sixteen, one for people who pass at twenty-three, one for people who pass at forty-four, and so on and so forth.” 

“Thirteen,” I said, mystified. “You are all thirteen?”

“Townies never age. We stay thirteen all our afterlives. I look exactly the same as when I came here nineteen years ago.”

You will find this nonsensical, Mother and Father, but this stagnation in the hereafter saddened me more than the realization of my own death did. I would never grow up, never go to university, and never become a scientist. And, frankly, I had seen enough of thirteen-year-olds back in America—their stupidity, cruelty, and immaturity. 

Thelma noticed my sudden distress. “Oh, but we grow wiser the longer we stay here,” she said. “Well, at least some of us do.”

“Segregating the afterlife by age seems logical,” I said to be a good sport. “After all, if the dead were all housed in the same place, Town would be seriously overpopulated.” 

I then asked, “Will I be here for eternity?” 

She shook her head. “No, us townies only get five decades here. After our time’s up, we go to sleep one night and never wake. We vanish in the night. All we leave behind is our PJs.”
“Oh my.” I said. “Where do we go next?”

“Some say we move to a higher level of heaven, one with better food, sturdier plumbing, and sunnier skies,” Thelma replied. “Others wonder if we reincarnate back to America. But the truth is, nobody really knows where we go.”

Thelma got up from the bed and opened the door to a walk-in closet. She came out carrying a pair of jeans, T‑shirts, boxer shorts, and socks, which she laid on the bed.

“What’s your shoe size?”

“Seven,” I said. 

She went back in the closet to find me some shoes.

“Do you have any penny loafers?” I asked because they are the shoes you would always buy me, Mother.

“Town has no leather shoes,” Thelma called out. “Leather’s dead cow and heaven ain’t no place for the dead.” 

While she was in the closet, I slipped on the boxer shorts and then the jeans, which were covered in red, white, and blue patches from the Bicentennial three years ago. “So only Americans come here?” I asked.

“Yep. We don’t get no foreigners. Just people who lived in the U. S. of A.” 

I thought of absurd science-fiction films where the characters on distant planets spoke fluent American English, but never Swedish or Swahili. 

“What about different religions?” I asked as I slipped on a tie-dyed T-shirt from the half-dozen shirts on the bed.

“Oh, we aren’t divided by religion. We get all kinds here. Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses. You name it, honey, we get it.”

She came out carrying a tatty pair of sneakers, which had the letters L and R inked on the toes. She handed them over. “What religion are you?” she asked. 

“Atheist.” 

She let out a whoop of laughter. “I don’t always have much faith in a supreme being myself,” she said. 

I sat on the bed and put on the sneakers. She sat beside me and picked lint off my T-shirt.

“I ain’t religious, but I am a spiritual person,” she said. “You spiritual, Oliver?”

“I have never had a spiritual day in my entire life.”

She gave me a gap-toothed smile. “Well, your entire American life’s over, honey,” she said. “But your afterlife’s all set to begin. Maybe you’ll find yourself some spirituality here.”
“Original, wickedly funny and avoiding overt sentimentality, Smith’s writing is consistently assured. As Boo matures and learns the value of mercy, forgiveness and friendship in a strange democratic heaven, his story proves both moving and surprisingly hopeful.” —Financial Times

“Instantly charming, never predictable, quietly profound—Boo is both literarily and literally haunting and, in the end, devastating.” —Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of Seconds and the Scott Pilgrim series

“A coming of age tale flipped on its head, with a subtle depth and poignancy. Readers will feel torn between sadness and hopefulness throughout the story, and by the end just may feel the urge to go hug their loved ones.” —The Rumpus
 
“Imagine that heaven was segregated by age and geography? Neil Smith did and ended up with this wonderful tale of 13 year old Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple who wakes up in heaven for thirteen-year-old Americans without any idea of how he got there. What follows is part mystery, part adventure and a glimpse into what the world might be like if it was run by thirteen-year-olds. I was utterly charmed by this book and you will be too.” —Huffington Post

“Remarkable. . . . A pleasure to read. The sensibility is wry, the story compelling despite all the undertones of irony. But it is the sprightliness of the language that matters most.” —National Post

“A phenomenal book by a singular talent. . . . In short, I fell in love with Boo Dalrymple. It has been ages since a character in a novel captured both my attention and my heart to this degree. . . . Boo is an extraordinary book, full stop. No qualifiers, no ifs, no ands, no buts. It is a wildly compelling, unique story brought to life by a fascinating narrator.” —Allen Adams, The Maine Edge

“A breakout debut from Smith. . . . Boo is a quirky page-turner that takes readers on a poignant, and at times dark, journey. If you liked early 2000s indie Wristcutters, you're going to love this.” —Nylon, “Summer Reading Guide”

“A book worth picking up. Smith's writing is fluid and precise, and his characters' voices feel authentic and comforting. A twist in the story and an adventure that spins out of the main tale will keep readers turning pages until the very end. . . . A fascinating look at what happens when our minds grow while our bodies remain unchanged, all set against the backdrop of the anguish and struggle of forever being a teen. . . . Smith's quirky afterlife is a unique vision of what heaven might be.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“Part murder mystery, part existential adventure, Boo is an utter charm-bomb of a novel. Neil Smith’s version of the sweet hereafter shows not only that heaven can be hell, but answers the eternal question of whether it’s better to be dumber with friends or smarter without.” —Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

“Utterly believable. . . . Magical in its setting and plot, there is also a strong element of fable to the book. . . . For all its dead characters, the novel is alive from the outset. Town is a captivating landscape, far away from Hollywood notions of heaven.” —Irish Times

“Part murder mystery and part coming-of-age story, Boo is a fresh take on life, death, and friendship. . . . Smith’s first novel is testament to his immense imagination.” —Pop Matters 

“A splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing  in a unique afterlife. . . . Smith smoothly develops his vision of an afterlife in which a theoretical god supplies random items from the living world, electronics run without power, and kids are left to their own devices. The story is never about providing solid answers, but readers who appreciate that sort of ambiguity will find that the emotional payoffs are both surprising and moving.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“A delicious plum pudding of perspectives on spirituality. For starters, the novel is a half-tribute to, half-send-up of Waiting for Godot.” —Vancouver Sun

“Compelling and increasingly poignant. . . . One minute 13-year-old Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple is standing in front of his locker at Helen Keller Junior High School reciting the periodic table to himself (yeah, he’s that kind of boy); the next, he wakes up in bed in a place called Town. . . . The story Boo tells is endlessly intriguing and entertaining as it contemplates the presence—or absence—of God, whom the kids call Zig, while revealing surprising and disturbing truths about the [character’s] previous lives and deaths. Fans of the offbeat will think they’ve died and gone to Town—er, heaven.” —Booklist (starred)

“Neil Smith has created a heaven where the sadness and triumph of life aren’t flattened or diminished but heightened and intensified. Just like you always suspected it would be. Boo is sad, beautiful, heartbreaking and impossible to put down.” —Andrew Kaufman, author of All My Friends Are Superheroes and Born Weird

Boo is an astoundingly original novel and Neil Smith's take on the afterlife is convincing, moving, and often funny as hell. A vision equal parts Murakami and South Park.” —Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes

“Who knew heaven could be so funny, so perilous, so exquisitely alive? Boo is a work of singular genius: an adventure story, a mystery and a profound meditation on childhood, lost innocence and the power of friendship to save our lives—and afterlives. I believe in Neil Smith’s heaven, with all my heart.” —Jessica Grant, author of Come, Thou Tortoise

“A touching tale of what friendship and growing up can mean. . . . The novel has an understated message about gun control and bullying and is a fine portrayal of Boo’s emergence from the carapace of fear, distrust, and solitude he grew for himself in his short life. Smith is often amusing in cute and clever ways, but there’s a slyer, more satisfying humor in the twins Tim and Tom Lu, who owe something to Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and -dee.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An original and masterfully told debut novel, a dark and deeply affecting depiction of the hereafter. . . . Smith delivers a splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing in a unique afterlife.” —Largehearted Boy

“[Smith] has hit a home run with Boo. . . . All ages will find the novel disturbing, humourous, and absolutely authentic. . . . As the tale unfolds, it becomes darker, richer, and ghoulish, while the spare, conversational prose never patronizes either its reader or diverse cast of eccentrics. . . . Be prepared for surprises. Big surprises. And a desire to reread the entire novel to note the clues missed in the first go.” —Quill & Quire (starred)

“Perfectly drawn. . . . An insightful look at serious issues affecting today’s teenagers—bullying, mental illness, suicide and school shootings. It is the kind of book that should be taught in high school English-lit classes across the country. . . . Surprises pile up as mysteries are solved. The result: Boo is a definite page turner for both adult and teen readers.” —Ottawa Citizen
 
“An adventure story, and a fable about friendship. . . . In Boo, Smith brings his off-the-wall imagination to a whole other realm: the afterlife. . . . He tells us what kind of toothpaste they use in heaven (baking soda), and what kind of houses they live in (red-brick dormitories that look like housing projects). He tells us that there are no insects in heaven and that people get high by smoking chamomile leaves instead of dope. . . . [Boo] might seem lighthearted . . . but there is an undercurrent of deep loss.” —Montreal Review of Books

“A very fast-paced, original and inventive story, with a foundation in emotional intelligence, honesty and flaw. . . . The voice of the scary-smart weird teen, in tandem with the narrative setting, leads you to think this is some crossover between The Lovely Bones and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though the book exhibits qualities of both, it takes a quick turn to Lord of the Flies. . . . [The] novel’s thematic questions—a terrifying high-wire act—are huger than huge. Smith ventures to convey a reality about bullying and mental health that is far braver than any you’ve ever read, as Boo is a spelunking adventure deep into the caves of life, death, good, evil, mortality, loss and grief. . . . The construction of plot is unlike any you’ve ever seen. . . . You’ll find that the very devastating thoughts of this thirteen-year-old are shockingly intimate, relatable and, in their own way, true” —Lambda Literary

About

Do you ever wonder, dear Mother and Father, what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven? I will tell you. . . . This book I am writing to you about my afterlife will be your nitty-gritty. One day I hope to discover a way to deliver my story to you.

It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth grader; aspiring scientist; social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of a place called Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys’ deaths.

In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo’s great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends; and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover a disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.

Hilarious and heartwarming, poignant and profound, Boo is a unique look at the bonds of friendship in what is, ultimately, a book about finding your place in the world—be it this one, or the next.

“Utterly believable. . . . The plot of Boo has real-life resonance for the author, who was on campus at the Université de Montréal in 1989 when a 25-year-old man, Marc Lepine, shot and killed 14 female engineering students. . . . Magical in its setting and plot, there is also a strong element of fable to the book. . . . For all its dead characters, the novel is alive from the outset. Town is a captivating landscape, far away from Hollywood notions of heaven.” —Irish Times
 
“Remarkable. Even without the elves, [Boo] is definitely a work of fantasy, set in an afterlife unrecognizable to adherents of any religion. . . . What gives the novel its vitality . . . is that the fantasy in this case is comic. Its Heaven is a shabby version of an American junior high school, with all its rules and its school spirit and its fun educational activities—and also its cruelties. . . . It is part of Smith’s artistry to leave open the question of whether he’s making fun of religious believers, or rationalists, or both. The reader is in no need of an answer: there’s enough entertainment value in his chronicling the adventures of two American lads in their parallel universe. . . . A pleasure to read. The sensibility is wry, the story compelling despite all the undertones of irony. But it is the sprightliness of the language that matters most.” —National Post
 
“A book worth picking up. Smith's writing is fluid and precise, and his characters' voices feel authentic and comforting. A twist in the story and an adventure that spins out of the main tale will keep readers turning pages until the very end. . . . A fascinating look at what happens when our minds grow while our bodies remain unchanged, all set against the backdrop of the anguish and struggle of forever being a teen. It also gives us a moment to reflect on who we might be if we were a little less ‘ourselves’—our edges softened and our worst traits altered just enough to make us better and maybe even happier selves. . . . In a market seemingly crowded by vampires, wizards and dystopian futures comes a unique and fresh take on the young-adult fantasy novel. Part mystery, part leap of faith and part never-ending junior high classroom, the afterlife created by Canadian author Neil Smith is one never imagined in a Sunday-school classroom. . . . Smith's quirky afterlife is a unique vision of what heaven might be.” —Winnipeg Free Press
 
“A delicious plum pudding of perspectives on spirituality. For starters, the novel is a half-tribute to, half-send-up of Waiting for Godot.” —Melanie Jackson, Vancouver Sun
 
“Part murder mystery and part coming-of-age story, Boo is a fresh take on life, death, and friendship. . . . Smith’s first novel is testament to his immense imagination. . . . Boo not only finds himself in an unusual situation, he is unusual (in the most charming sense). Told from [his] perspective, the novel is reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. . . . Boo is honest, direct, and funny. . . . [His] deadpan tone and droll sense of humor are wonderful devices used to separate the tone of the book from its dark material. . . . Smith instills a sense of discovery, surprise, and authentic teen observation into Boo. This mixture makes the novel a realistic coming of age story, despite its unconventional setting. The book is categorized as YA, but the relationship between Oliver and Johnny is complex and tender in a way that transcends many of the rehashed romantic relationships YA novels make front and center.” —Pop Matters (8/10 stars)

“A breakout debut from Smith. . . . Life can be pretty weird at 13, and it turns out the afterlife gets even weirder: When Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple, a gangly, eighth grade bookworm, dies of a hole in his heart just before first period one day, he finds himself in Town, a Burton-esque resting place reserved exclusively for those who die at thirteen. Soon after Boo's arrival, Johnny, a former classmate, appears in Town and brings with him some grim news about the circumstances surrounding their premature passing. Together, the boys form an unlikely alliance to embark on a mission to find more answers. . . . Boo is a quirky page-turner that takes readers on a poignant, and at times dark, journey. If you liked early 2000s indie Wristcutters, you're going to love this.” —Nylon, “Summer Reading Guide”
 
“For a novel centred on death, Neil Smith’s debut—following a critically acclaimed collection of short stories—brims with vitality. . . . Original, wickedly funny and avoiding overt sentimentality, Smith’s writing is consistently assured. As Boo matures and learns the value of mercy, forgiveness and friendship in a strange democratic heaven, his story proves both moving and surprisingly hopeful.” —Financial Times

“A phenomenal book by a singular talent. . . . In short, I fell in love with Boo Dalrymple. It has been ages since a character in a novel captured both my attention and my heart to this degree. . . . The first-person narrative can be an overused tool leading to lazy writing, but in Smith’s talented hands, it simply washes over the reader, gently pulling us into the heart of the world being created. . . . Boo is one of the most genuine literary creations that you’re likely to find in any book this year. . . . The power of Smith’s prose is undeniable. His story unfolds in a manner that somehow manages to be complex in its simplicity. The characters he creates, this wonderful expression of a place built by people who are 13 for five decades—it transports you, plain and simple. The world of Town is a richly realized, utterly unique take on the possibilities of the afterlife. That vision of heavenly segregation would easily be the most brilliant part of most literary efforts; instead, it simply serves as a perfectly prepared canvas on which to paint the portrait of the sweet, smart, sad Boo. . . . Boo is an extraordinary book, full stop. No qualifiers, no ifs, no ands, no buts. It is a wildly compelling, unique story brought to life by a fascinating narrator.” —Allen Adams, The Maine Edge
 
“An original and masterfully told debut novel, a dark and deeply affecting depiction of the hereafter. . . . Smith delivers a splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing in a unique afterlife.” —Largehearted Boy

“Perfectly drawn. . . . An insightful look at serious issues affecting today’s teenagers—bullying, mental illness, suicide and school shootings. It is the kind of book that should be taught in high school English-lit classes across the country. . . . Surprises pile up as mysteries are solved. The result: Boo is a definite page turner for both adult and teen readers.” —Ottawa Citizen
 
“An adventure story, and a fable about friendship. . . . In Boo, Smith brings his off-the-wall imagination to a whole other realm: the afterlife. . . . He tells us what kind of toothpaste they use in heaven (baking soda), and what kind of houses they live in (red-brick dormitories that look like housing projects). He tells us that there are no insects in heaven and that people get high by smoking chamomile leaves instead of dope. . . . [Boo] might seem lighthearted . . . but there is an undercurrent of deep loss.” —Montreal Review of Books

“A very fast-paced, original and inventive story, with a foundation in emotional intelligence, honesty and flaw. . . . The voice of the scary-smart weird teen, in tandem with the narrative setting, leads you to think this is some crossover between The Lovely Bones and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though the book exhibits qualities of both, it takes a quick turn to Lord of the Flies. . . . [The] novel’s thematic questions—a terrifying high-wire act—are huger than huge. Smith ventures to convey a reality about bullying and mental health that is far braver than any you’ve ever read, as Boo is a spelunking adventure deep into the caves of life, death, good, evil, mortality, loss and grief. . . . The construction of plot is unlike any you’ve ever seen. . . . You’ll find that the very devastating thoughts of this thirteen-year-old are shockingly intimate, relatable and, in their own way, true.” —Lambda Literary

“Compelling and increasingly poignant. . . . One minute 13-year-old Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple is standing in front of his locker at Helen Keller Junior High School reciting the periodic table to himself (yeah, he’s that kind of boy); the next, he wakes up in bed in a place called Town. . . . The story Boo tells is endlessly intriguing and entertaining as it contemplates the presence—or absence—of God, whom the kids call Zig, while revealing surprising and disturbing truths about the [character’s] previous lives and deaths. Fans of the offbeat will think they’ve died and gone to Town—er, heaven.” —Booklist (starred review)
 
“[Smith] has hit a home run with Boo. . . . All ages will find the novel disturbing, humourous, and absolutely authentic. . . . As the tale unfolds, it becomes darker, richer, and ghoulish, while the spare, conversational prose never patronizes either its reader or diverse cast of eccentrics. . . . Be prepared for surprises. Big surprises. And a desire to reread the entire novel to note the clues missed in the first go.” —Quill & Quire (starred review)

“A splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing  in a unique afterlife. . . . Smith smoothly develops his vision of an afterlife in which a theoretical god supplies random items from the living world, electronics run without power, and kids are left to their own devices. The story is never about providing solid answers, but readers who appreciate that sort of ambiguity will find that the emotional payoffs are both surprising and moving.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“A touching tale of what friendship and growing up can mean. Oliver Dalrymple, whose pallor earns him the nickname Boo, is a precocious 13-year-old at Helen Keller Junior High when he suddenly dies in front of his locker. He reports this on the first page of what will be his book-length effort to explain the afterlife to his parents. Smith has fun presenting the slightly off or odd details of a limbo called Town where those who have ‘passed’ are gathered with others of the same age—13 in Boo’s case—to live in ‘three-story red-brick dormitories,’ work simple jobs, and abide by a few rules before entering another phase after 50 years. It’s Lord of the Flies without pig slaughter and privation. . . . The novel has an understated message about gun control and bullying and is a fine portrayal of Boo’s emergence from the carapace of fear, distrust, and solitude he grew for himself in his short life. Smith is often amusing in cute and clever ways, but there’s a slyer, more satisfying humor in the twins Tim and Tom Lu, who owe something to Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and -dee.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Instantly charming, never predictable, quietly profound—Boo is both literarily and literally haunting and, in the end, devastating.” —Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of Seconds and the Scott Pilgrim series
 
 “Part murder mystery, part existential adventure, Boo is an utter charm-bomb of a novel. Neil Smith’s version of the sweet hereafter shows not only that heaven can be hell, but answers the eternal question of whether it’s better to be dumber with friends or smarter without.” —Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
 
“Neil Smith has created a heaven where the sadness and triumph of life aren’t flattened or diminished but heightened and intensified. Just like you always suspected it would be. Boo is sad, beautiful, heartbreaking and impossible to put down.” —Andrew Kaufman, author of All My Friends Are Superheroes and Born Weird
 
Boo is an astoundingly original novel and Neil Smith's take on the afterlife is convincing, moving, and often funny as hell. A vision equal parts Murakami and South Park.” —Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes
 
“Who knew heaven could be so funny, so perilous, so exquisitely alive? Boo is a work of singular genius: an adventure story, a mystery and a profound meditation on childhood, lost innocence and the power of friendship to save our lives—and afterlives. I believe in Neil Smith’s heaven, with all my heart.” —Jessica Grant, author of Come, Thou Tortoise

Author

© Julie Artacho
NEIL SMITH is a Canadian writer and translator. His novel Boo won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, and was nominated for a Sunburst Award and the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award, and was longlisted for the Prix des libraires du Québec. Smith published his debut book, the short story collection Bang Crunch, in 2007. It was chosen as a best book of the year by the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail, won the McAuslan First Book Prize from the Quebec Writers' Federation, and was a finalist for the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. Three stories in the book were also nominated for the Journey Prize. Smith also works as a translator, from French to English. The Goddess of Fireflies, his translation of Geneviève Pettersen's novel La déesse des mouches à feu, was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for Translation. His latest novel is Jones. View titles by Neil Smith

Excerpt

1. H.

Do you ever wonder, dear Mother and Father, what kind of toothpaste angels use in heaven? I will tell you. We use baking soda sprinkled on our toothbrushes. It tastes salty, which comes as no surprise because baking soda is a kind of salt known as sodium bicarbonate. 

You never wonder about toothpaste in heaven, do you? After all, you are agnostic. But even believers seldom ponder the nitty-gritty of their afterlife. Thinking of heaven, they imagine simply a feeling of love and a sense of peace. They do not consider whether the pineapple they eat here will be fresh or come from a can. (We actually receive both kinds, though certainly more canned than fresh.) 

This book I am writing to you about my afterlife will be your nitty-gritty. One day I hope to discover a way to deliver my story to you. 

As you know, I died in front of my locker at Helen Keller Junior High on September 8, 1979, which was exactly one month ago today. Before I died, I had been reciting the 106 elements from the periodic table. My locker number (No. 106) had inspired me, and my goal was to memorize all the elements in chronological order. However, when I reached No. 78, platinum (Pt), Jermaine Tucker interrupted by smacking me in the head. “What the hell you doing, Boo?” he said.

I told you once that my classmates called me Boo on account of my ghostly pale skin and my staticky, whitish blond hair that stands on end. Some of them considered me an albino, but of course I am not: a true albino has dark red or almost purplish eyes, whereas mine are light blue.

“Boo! How ironic,” you may say, “because now our son is a ghost.” You would be mistaken, of course, because this is not true irony. Irony would be if Jermaine Tucker had said, “Wow, Boo, I truly respect and admire you for memorizing the periodic table!” Respect and admiration are the opposite of the feelings I aroused in Jermaine and, for that matter, most of my classmates. 

Did you realize I was a pariah? If you did not, I am sorry I never made this clear, but I did not want you fretting about something you could in no way control. You already worried enough about the inoperable hole in my heart and had long warned me about straining my heart muscles.

Jermaine walked off to class, and I continued undeterred with my count as scientists Richard Dawkins and Jane Goodall watched me from the photographs I had taped to the back of my locker door. For the first time ever, I reached No. 106, seaborgium (Sg), without stealing a peek at the periodic table hung below the photos of Richard and Jane.

My feat of memorization, however, must have overexcited my heart because I immediately fainted to the floor. I could say I “gave up the ghost,” especially in light of my nickname, but I dislike euphemism. I prefer to say the truth simply and plainly. The plain and simple truth: my heart stopped and I died.

How much time passed between my heart’s final chug in the school hallway and my eyes opening in the hereafter I cannot say. After all, who knows which time zone heaven is in? But as I glanced around the room where I found myself, I certainly did not see the clichéd image of heaven. No white-robed angels with kind smiles gliding out of a bank of clouds and singing in dulcet tones. Instead, I saw a black girl snoring as she slept in a high-back swivel chair, a book at her feet.

I immediately knew I was dead. My first clue: I saw the girl perfectly even though I was not wearing my eyeglasses. I even saw the title of her book (Brown Girl, Brownstones). Indeed, I saw everything around me with great clarity. The girl wore blue jeans and a T-shirt with a decal of a litter of angora kittens. Colorful beads dangled from the ends of her cornrows, and they reminded me of the abacus you gave me when I was five years old.

I lay in a single bed covered in a sheet and a thin cotton blanket. Other than the swivel chair, the bed was the only furniture in the windowless room. Overhead a ceiling fan spun. Hung on the walls were abstract paintings—squiggles, splotches, and drippings. I sat up in bed. My naked chest seemed whiter than normal, and the bluish arteries marbling my shoulders stood out. I peeked under the blanket and saw I was not wearing a pajama bottom or even underwear. Nudity itself does not bother me, though: to me, a penis is no more embarrassing than an ear or a nose. Still, do not assume I had found the Helen Keller gym showers, for example, a comfortable place to be. That communal shower room was a breeding ground for the human papillomavirus causing plantar warts. And on two occasions there, Kevin Stein thought it would be sidesplitting to urinate on my leg. 

“Excuse me! Hello!” I called out to the girl in the swivel chair, who woke with a start. She stared at me wide-eyed.

“May I assume I am dead?” I asked.

She lurched out of her chair and hurried over, accidentally kicking her novel under the bed. She grabbed my hand and squeezed. I yanked it back because as you know, I dislike being touched.

“You ain’t dead, honey,” she said. “You passed, but you’re still alive.”

“Passed?”

“We say ‘passed’ here instead of ‘died.’ Passed like you did good on a math test.” She gave me a smile that exposed a gap between her front teeth wide enough to stick a drinking straw through. When she sat down on the side of the bed, it listed because she was heavy. I once read an article on longevity in the magazine Science that claimed that thin people lived longer. To offset my holey heart, I tried to prolong my life by keeping a slim physique. Needless to say, my efforts came to naught.

“Let me introduce myself,” the girl said. “My name’s Thelma Rudd, and I’m originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, where my family runs the Horseshoe Diner.” She asked what my name was and where I came from.

“Oliver Dalrymple from Hoffman Estates, Illinois,” I told her. “My parents have a barbershop there called Clippers.” 

“Do you know how you passed, Oliver Dalrymple?”

“I believe I died of a holey heart.”

“A holy heart?” She looked puzzled. “We all have holy hearts up here.”

“No, I mean my heart has an actual hole in it.”

“Oh, how terrible,” she said and patted my leg.

Thelma went on to explain that she belonged to a group of volunteers known as the “do-gooders.” “I always sign up for rebirthing duty here at the Meg Murry Infirmary,” she said. “I like welcoming newborns like yourself.”

I asked how long a “rebirthing” took.

“It’s over in the blink of an eye.” Thelma blinked several times. “A do-gooder’s always on rebirthing duty at the Meg. We never know when we’re gonna get a package.”

She patted the mattress, and I eyed the bed, its rumpled blanket and its pillow with the indent from my head. The bed did not look mysterious or miraculous in any way. “We just materialize here?” I asked.

Thelma nodded. She gave me a probing look, eyes so deep-set I figured she, too, once wore glasses. “You know, hon, you’re the calmest newborn I ever did meet,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe the hysterics I seen in my nineteen years in Town.”

“Nineteen years!?” I said. “But you look my age.”

“Oh, we’re all thirteen here.”

This particular hereafter, she clarified, was reserved for Americans who passed at age thirteen. “We call it Town,” she said. “Us townies believe there’s lots of towns of heaven. One for every age—one for people who pass at sixteen, one for people who pass at twenty-three, one for people who pass at forty-four, and so on and so forth.” 

“Thirteen,” I said, mystified. “You are all thirteen?”

“Townies never age. We stay thirteen all our afterlives. I look exactly the same as when I came here nineteen years ago.”

You will find this nonsensical, Mother and Father, but this stagnation in the hereafter saddened me more than the realization of my own death did. I would never grow up, never go to university, and never become a scientist. And, frankly, I had seen enough of thirteen-year-olds back in America—their stupidity, cruelty, and immaturity. 

Thelma noticed my sudden distress. “Oh, but we grow wiser the longer we stay here,” she said. “Well, at least some of us do.”

“Segregating the afterlife by age seems logical,” I said to be a good sport. “After all, if the dead were all housed in the same place, Town would be seriously overpopulated.” 

I then asked, “Will I be here for eternity?” 

She shook her head. “No, us townies only get five decades here. After our time’s up, we go to sleep one night and never wake. We vanish in the night. All we leave behind is our PJs.”
“Oh my.” I said. “Where do we go next?”

“Some say we move to a higher level of heaven, one with better food, sturdier plumbing, and sunnier skies,” Thelma replied. “Others wonder if we reincarnate back to America. But the truth is, nobody really knows where we go.”

Thelma got up from the bed and opened the door to a walk-in closet. She came out carrying a pair of jeans, T‑shirts, boxer shorts, and socks, which she laid on the bed.

“What’s your shoe size?”

“Seven,” I said. 

She went back in the closet to find me some shoes.

“Do you have any penny loafers?” I asked because they are the shoes you would always buy me, Mother.

“Town has no leather shoes,” Thelma called out. “Leather’s dead cow and heaven ain’t no place for the dead.” 

While she was in the closet, I slipped on the boxer shorts and then the jeans, which were covered in red, white, and blue patches from the Bicentennial three years ago. “So only Americans come here?” I asked.

“Yep. We don’t get no foreigners. Just people who lived in the U. S. of A.” 

I thought of absurd science-fiction films where the characters on distant planets spoke fluent American English, but never Swedish or Swahili. 

“What about different religions?” I asked as I slipped on a tie-dyed T-shirt from the half-dozen shirts on the bed.

“Oh, we aren’t divided by religion. We get all kinds here. Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses. You name it, honey, we get it.”

She came out carrying a tatty pair of sneakers, which had the letters L and R inked on the toes. She handed them over. “What religion are you?” she asked. 

“Atheist.” 

She let out a whoop of laughter. “I don’t always have much faith in a supreme being myself,” she said. 

I sat on the bed and put on the sneakers. She sat beside me and picked lint off my T-shirt.

“I ain’t religious, but I am a spiritual person,” she said. “You spiritual, Oliver?”

“I have never had a spiritual day in my entire life.”

She gave me a gap-toothed smile. “Well, your entire American life’s over, honey,” she said. “But your afterlife’s all set to begin. Maybe you’ll find yourself some spirituality here.”

Praise

“Original, wickedly funny and avoiding overt sentimentality, Smith’s writing is consistently assured. As Boo matures and learns the value of mercy, forgiveness and friendship in a strange democratic heaven, his story proves both moving and surprisingly hopeful.” —Financial Times

“Instantly charming, never predictable, quietly profound—Boo is both literarily and literally haunting and, in the end, devastating.” —Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of Seconds and the Scott Pilgrim series

“A coming of age tale flipped on its head, with a subtle depth and poignancy. Readers will feel torn between sadness and hopefulness throughout the story, and by the end just may feel the urge to go hug their loved ones.” —The Rumpus
 
“Imagine that heaven was segregated by age and geography? Neil Smith did and ended up with this wonderful tale of 13 year old Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple who wakes up in heaven for thirteen-year-old Americans without any idea of how he got there. What follows is part mystery, part adventure and a glimpse into what the world might be like if it was run by thirteen-year-olds. I was utterly charmed by this book and you will be too.” —Huffington Post

“Remarkable. . . . A pleasure to read. The sensibility is wry, the story compelling despite all the undertones of irony. But it is the sprightliness of the language that matters most.” —National Post

“A phenomenal book by a singular talent. . . . In short, I fell in love with Boo Dalrymple. It has been ages since a character in a novel captured both my attention and my heart to this degree. . . . Boo is an extraordinary book, full stop. No qualifiers, no ifs, no ands, no buts. It is a wildly compelling, unique story brought to life by a fascinating narrator.” —Allen Adams, The Maine Edge

“A breakout debut from Smith. . . . Boo is a quirky page-turner that takes readers on a poignant, and at times dark, journey. If you liked early 2000s indie Wristcutters, you're going to love this.” —Nylon, “Summer Reading Guide”

“A book worth picking up. Smith's writing is fluid and precise, and his characters' voices feel authentic and comforting. A twist in the story and an adventure that spins out of the main tale will keep readers turning pages until the very end. . . . A fascinating look at what happens when our minds grow while our bodies remain unchanged, all set against the backdrop of the anguish and struggle of forever being a teen. . . . Smith's quirky afterlife is a unique vision of what heaven might be.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“Part murder mystery, part existential adventure, Boo is an utter charm-bomb of a novel. Neil Smith’s version of the sweet hereafter shows not only that heaven can be hell, but answers the eternal question of whether it’s better to be dumber with friends or smarter without.” —Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

“Utterly believable. . . . Magical in its setting and plot, there is also a strong element of fable to the book. . . . For all its dead characters, the novel is alive from the outset. Town is a captivating landscape, far away from Hollywood notions of heaven.” —Irish Times

“Part murder mystery and part coming-of-age story, Boo is a fresh take on life, death, and friendship. . . . Smith’s first novel is testament to his immense imagination.” —Pop Matters 

“A splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing  in a unique afterlife. . . . Smith smoothly develops his vision of an afterlife in which a theoretical god supplies random items from the living world, electronics run without power, and kids are left to their own devices. The story is never about providing solid answers, but readers who appreciate that sort of ambiguity will find that the emotional payoffs are both surprising and moving.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“A delicious plum pudding of perspectives on spirituality. For starters, the novel is a half-tribute to, half-send-up of Waiting for Godot.” —Vancouver Sun

“Compelling and increasingly poignant. . . . One minute 13-year-old Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple is standing in front of his locker at Helen Keller Junior High School reciting the periodic table to himself (yeah, he’s that kind of boy); the next, he wakes up in bed in a place called Town. . . . The story Boo tells is endlessly intriguing and entertaining as it contemplates the presence—or absence—of God, whom the kids call Zig, while revealing surprising and disturbing truths about the [character’s] previous lives and deaths. Fans of the offbeat will think they’ve died and gone to Town—er, heaven.” —Booklist (starred)

“Neil Smith has created a heaven where the sadness and triumph of life aren’t flattened or diminished but heightened and intensified. Just like you always suspected it would be. Boo is sad, beautiful, heartbreaking and impossible to put down.” —Andrew Kaufman, author of All My Friends Are Superheroes and Born Weird

Boo is an astoundingly original novel and Neil Smith's take on the afterlife is convincing, moving, and often funny as hell. A vision equal parts Murakami and South Park.” —Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes

“Who knew heaven could be so funny, so perilous, so exquisitely alive? Boo is a work of singular genius: an adventure story, a mystery and a profound meditation on childhood, lost innocence and the power of friendship to save our lives—and afterlives. I believe in Neil Smith’s heaven, with all my heart.” —Jessica Grant, author of Come, Thou Tortoise

“A touching tale of what friendship and growing up can mean. . . . The novel has an understated message about gun control and bullying and is a fine portrayal of Boo’s emergence from the carapace of fear, distrust, and solitude he grew for himself in his short life. Smith is often amusing in cute and clever ways, but there’s a slyer, more satisfying humor in the twins Tim and Tom Lu, who owe something to Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and -dee.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An original and masterfully told debut novel, a dark and deeply affecting depiction of the hereafter. . . . Smith delivers a splendidly confident debut novel, a fantasy of emotional healing in a unique afterlife.” —Largehearted Boy

“[Smith] has hit a home run with Boo. . . . All ages will find the novel disturbing, humourous, and absolutely authentic. . . . As the tale unfolds, it becomes darker, richer, and ghoulish, while the spare, conversational prose never patronizes either its reader or diverse cast of eccentrics. . . . Be prepared for surprises. Big surprises. And a desire to reread the entire novel to note the clues missed in the first go.” —Quill & Quire (starred)

“Perfectly drawn. . . . An insightful look at serious issues affecting today’s teenagers—bullying, mental illness, suicide and school shootings. It is the kind of book that should be taught in high school English-lit classes across the country. . . . Surprises pile up as mysteries are solved. The result: Boo is a definite page turner for both adult and teen readers.” —Ottawa Citizen
 
“An adventure story, and a fable about friendship. . . . In Boo, Smith brings his off-the-wall imagination to a whole other realm: the afterlife. . . . He tells us what kind of toothpaste they use in heaven (baking soda), and what kind of houses they live in (red-brick dormitories that look like housing projects). He tells us that there are no insects in heaven and that people get high by smoking chamomile leaves instead of dope. . . . [Boo] might seem lighthearted . . . but there is an undercurrent of deep loss.” —Montreal Review of Books

“A very fast-paced, original and inventive story, with a foundation in emotional intelligence, honesty and flaw. . . . The voice of the scary-smart weird teen, in tandem with the narrative setting, leads you to think this is some crossover between The Lovely Bones and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though the book exhibits qualities of both, it takes a quick turn to Lord of the Flies. . . . [The] novel’s thematic questions—a terrifying high-wire act—are huger than huge. Smith ventures to convey a reality about bullying and mental health that is far braver than any you’ve ever read, as Boo is a spelunking adventure deep into the caves of life, death, good, evil, mortality, loss and grief. . . . The construction of plot is unlike any you’ve ever seen. . . . You’ll find that the very devastating thoughts of this thirteen-year-old are shockingly intimate, relatable and, in their own way, true” —Lambda Literary

Books for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

In June we celebrate Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan and highlights the accomplishments of those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual + (LGBTQIA+) community, while recognizing the ongoing struggles faced by many across the world who wish to live as their most authentic selves. Here is

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PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

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PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

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PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

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