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The Afterlife by Gary Soto

4Q-4P (ages 14-16)
Soto, Gary. The Afterlife. New York: Harcourt, 2003.

When 17-year-old Chuy is unceremoniously stabbed in a club after complimenting another teen’s yellow shoes, he thinks that his life is over, but, in reality, his life is just beginning. As he floats around his hometown of Fresno, California, he begins to put the pieces of his random murder together, but there is nothing he can do with the information he discovered. Through his death, Chuy discovers that his family and friends truly did love and care for him as well as true love with Crystal, a young woman who has committed suicide. Together, Chuy and Crystal come to terms with their deaths and move on to the afterlife.

While most authors do not kill their characters off within the first few pages of a novel, Soto captures the reader’s attention by describing the random hate crime in vivid detail through Chuy’s eyes. Some events in the book are left unresolved, such as the issue of Chuy’s murder; the reader never discovers if his murdered was punished. However, as the novel progresses, Chuy’s murder becomes less important as his quest for self-understanding and self-acceptance is brought to the forefront.

Because Chuy and his friends and family members are Hispanic, the book is riddled with Spanish words and phrases; if the reader is unable to discern their meaning via context clues, he or she can turn to the glossary in the back of the book. Even though The Afterlife is rather dark in nature, Soto does his best to keep the book lighthearted, infusing it with frequent instances of humor; for example, when Chuy first becomes a ghost, he finds himself caught in the wind, causing him to end up in many comical situations.

The cover of The Afterlife features a Hispanic teen sprawled on a tile floor surrounded by a puddle of blood. This enticing cover art is sure to attract a lot of teen readers who wish to discover how this boy came to be lying on the floor.
Tags: the afterlife
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