I got to read the first chapter of Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Michelle Muto, on Courtney Cole’s blog and oh wow, it blew me away. Don’t Fear the Reaper is a dark, anguishing and beautiful book that explores so many taboo and dark topics. Keely Morrison is an identical twin, only she’s no longer a twin. Her sister, Jordan, was brutally murdered months before and the lingering agony of missing her sister, her own guilt over what had happened, and her deteriorating relationship with her parents is building on Keely’s breaking heart. She feels she has no choice, her need to escape, to be reunited with her sister, compounds into a dark and horrifying suicide.
Yes, that’s right. The main character kills herself in the beginning of the book. I want to preface this by saying that Don’t Fear the Reaper does not, in any way, glorify suicide. If anything, it’s the exact opposite. Keely has essentially given up on life, but she hasn’t given up on her sister. At first, she doesn’t think she’s succeeded in the suicide, and believes that the strange man standing in her home is there because he saved her. That is, until her parents come home and she’s faced with the scene she never imagined seeing. The man who arrived after her death is a reaper named Banning, and accompanying him is a demon named Daniel.
Other than the entire premise of being told from the point of view of a successful suicide, Don’t Fear the Reaper is also very unique in that the characters embark on what is nothing less than an amazing journey. Keely must pass a test to determine her fate, for as of the moment her suicide was complete, she was bound for hell. By some miracle, she’s been given a chance to redeem herself and Banning and Daniel are there to see her through with her journey. Muto gives the readers a glimpse into a dark world that surprisingly has quite a bit of hope within it. She writes it beautifully, giving a level of depth to purgatory that allows the readers to hope with Keely as she makes her journey. There’s so many moments of sadness and tragedy, that being able to keep that tiny little flame of hope burning is quite a feat.
Another astonishing aspect of Muto’s writing is that she is able to communicate Keely’s desperation in the beginning, and the history behind the despair that drives her actions so that when we’re reading that first chapter and witnessing Keely’s death, her emotions are palpable. Afterwards, Muto never once approaches Keely’s suicide as anything less that a tragedy. There is no positive spin put on Keely’s actions, only the hope that in the end, she can redeem herself for her actions. As the readers, we face Keely’s emotions, the after effects of her choices as they stand with her family and friends, the community and the afterlife. It’s gritty, it’s dark, and it certainly isn’t pleasant.
As Keely searches the afterlife for her twin, and struggles to understand Banning and Daniel’s roles in her fate, she faces many obstacles that continuously aid her in expanding her thoughts and increasing her appreciation for human life. This book, in some ways, isn’t one that every parent would be comfortable giving to their teenager to read simply because of the dark subject matter, but I feel that it’s a book every teenager who’s dealt with sadness or depression should read, not even considering the paranormal element of it. It’s simply such a raw look into the repercussions of suicide, and suicide affects families, friends and entire communities. Add in the paranormal element and you have a dark, extraordinarily original plot line that is filled with twists and turns that constantly keep a reader on their toes. I’m beyond excited for the sequel to this novel!