by Laura Whitcomb
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
"Calder was a Fetch, a death escort," begins this fantasy novel about a young spirit in "the Aisle," a passageway through which souls are escorted to Heaven after their death. Calder's work is to appear to mortals on the verge of death and, for those who choose to die, to escort their souls through the Aisle to a shore where a boat ferries them the rest of the way to Heaven. Seven "Vows of the Fetch" govern his work. These include "To open all Death Doors and to accept each soul's choice to live or die" and "Never to upset the world of the earthbound."
In the earthly year 1904, Calder steps through a Death Door to see a beautiful, loving woman caring for a baby at the point of death. His yearning for her awakens temptations that will lead him to break several vows. Time passes faster in the spirit world than for mortals, and he soon finds himself stranded in their world during the Russian Revolution, causing more damage than he imagined possible. A horde of malicious spirits add to his difficulties as he struggles to make things right and return to the Aisle with the souls in his charge.
Readers may find it hard to warm up to Calder at first. His motives seem surprisingly selfish and short-sighted for a spirit charged with so much responsibility. He becomes more sympathetic and even heroic, though, as the story continues. The novel's interpretation of the afterworld is unusual but intriguing. It may inspire readers to reflect on their own ideas about what happens when people die. (2009; 379 pages; recommended for ages 12 and up)
More about The Fetch at Powell's Books or Amazon.com (Warning: some of the reviews on both sites tell more of the plot than readers may want to know before reading the book.)
Other novels about spirits and the afterlife:
Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown (2010), about a young woman who consults a spiritualist photographer and speaks with her dead brother's spirit in an effort to learn more about her fiancé's death during the Civil War. More info
Vintage by Steve Berman (2008), about a modern gay teen who meets the seductive ghost of a boy who died the 1950s. More info
Seer of Shadows by Avi (2009), about a photographer's apprentice who helps his employer set up a fake photograph of a woman's dead daughter, only to find the daughter's ghost has actually returned. More info
Nonfiction for young people about the Russian Revolution:
Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov by Mary Englar (2008), about the youngest daughter of Nicholas II, the last Russian czar. More info
The Aftermath of the Russian Revolution by Kathlyn Gay (2009). More info
The Bolshevik Revolution by Joseph R. O'Neill (2009). More info
The Murder of Rasputin at About.com
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