On The Bright Side by S.R. Johannes
Hey y'all! I've gotten a few requests to make my reviews shorter, so for my next few reviews, I'm going to be experimenting with length and different ways of doing it where it's easier on the reader.
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Publisher: Coleman & Stott
As if the devil’s food cake at her wake and the white fat pants she’s stuck wearing for eternity weren’t bad enough, fourteen year-old Gabby is quick to discover that Cirrus, the main rung of Heaven, is a far cry from the Pearly Gates. Here, SkyFones and InnerNets are all the rage. At her first Bright ceremony, G.O.D., the automated assignment system, spits out Angela Black, Gabby’s arch nemesis and longtime fencing rival. As a Bright, Gabby has to protect Angela, her assigned mortal, in order to move up through the training levels of heaven.
Back on earth, Angela starts hitting on Michael, Gabby’s crush and should-have-been boyfriend. Gabby’s pranks to quell the love are harmless at first until the school dance sabotage gets completely out of control. Then, Celestial Sky Agent, Lawrence, who happens to have anger management issues of his own, steps into reveal that Angela has big problems, and what she really needs is Gabby’s help. Determined to right her wrong and ease her mother’s grief, Gabby steals an ancient artifact that allows her to return to earth for just one day. But if Gabby’s not careful, her well-meaning mission just might shift the very foundation of Heaven, Earth, and every place in between, causing the danger of the dark side to roam free
First of all, I apologize for the overdue review. Honestly, I thought that I would have gotten to it by now especially because of how this book touched me and things just kept popping up. If you missed it, I interviewed S.R. on the blog a few weeks ago and she talked about writing, her book, and more. On the Bright Side is one of those books that I needed time to digest how it impacted me.
Gabby was such an engrossing character. I thought that this book would be written more like an MG, and it was kind of a crossover to MG/YA. This book made me cry, but it also made me laugh, and smile, and want to go thank everybody for what I have. It's the type of book that has death in it, but it also has life, and the most beautiful part of it was Gabby's reflection upon her life and her growth as a character.
The book begins narrated by Gabby watching her funeral. This was really strategic on the part of S.R. Johannes because we instantly were introduced to the characters that meant the most to her, the things that were happening, and the rest of the book was set up for us effortlessly in a few paragraphs. It's the chapter that is completely absorbing and makes you want to dive into the book right away.
Gabby's emotions blend perfectly with the action of the novel, and they really bled into the reader. Gabby was so relatable and naive, but although she was never able to mature on Earth, she still kept growing up even after death. I felt like S.R. was writing about me for a good part of the book and it was truthfully inspiring to watch Gabby develop.
Gabby was sneaking out with the boy she had a crush on - Michael. She's finally starting to have hope that he likes her back, that they can finally be what they were meant to be. When she gets a text from her arch-nemisis Angela, she replies back, but Michael's shout from across the street wasn't enough to keep her from walking into the path of an oncoming car.
When she gets to heaven, Gabby finds herself completely overwhelmed. The rules, seeing her dad again, witnessing her funeral...a girl can't be prepared for all of that.
Gabby mourns the fact that she died, and the fact that she's stuck wearing white pants that "make her look fat" for all eternity. We experienced young love through her eyes, death, and growth. It was everything that a person around my age needs and it reminds you about everything in life that you want to hold onto.
The culture of heaven was also one of the best parts of this book. What was amusing to say the least was the intricate culture of heaven. While the world moves on and developed new technology, so did heaven. So there comes SkyFones and SkyAgents and all sorts of fantastical devices and strategies to make being a Bright a breeze.
The first thing that made me cry was when Gabby met her dead relatives in heaven - her sets of grandparents and then her dad. I started bawling at this scene and it was just so moving to read about Gabby meeting her father again after they've both died, and heartbreaking that her mom and brother had lost them both.
The equal mix of funniness and poignancy melted my heart. A funny thing about this book was that although it's about a girl who died and went to heaven, it actually isn't religious. The book features a woman ("goddess") who runs heaven, and God is retired. There wasn't much mention of him, but the book still inspires faith, but even somebody who isn't Christian can read it and not be put off by the preachiness, because there isn't any. It's also incredibly hard to write about heaven and not get preachy or religious, so props to you, S.R. for being able to execute that.
Dying really came as a shock to Gabby because nobody really thinks that they're going to die young. Everybody thinks that they'll live full lives and have a chance to cross things off of their bucket lists. It reminded me of a passage from Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver talking about how you never really know when you're going to die and time is relative.
I also must say that it was equal parts character-driven and plot-driven, which surprised me. I was expecting it to mostly be a reflection on Gabby's character and while it was that, there was also action and intrigue and backstory. I was so surprised by the events that occurred in the book and it kept me guessing until the last page.
There was an intense side to it. It wasn't just Gabby's emotions, but a plot with the entire world at stake, and that was incredibly fun to read about. I was biting my nails almost the entire time and I loved how it balanced so much in the book.
Overall, On the Bright Side was emotional, fun, and a great read for any MG/YA or even adult reader. On the Bright Side explores death, and what it truly means to live. None of the books that I've read recently have been as elegant or thought-provoking as this lovely novel. My original perceptions of the book completely changed by the end of the novel and was one of those books that I put down and cried over it. Beautiful character development and heart-warming relationships left me satisfied by the end. I highly recommend On the Bright Side.
Possible book club questions:
How do you think Gabby's entrance to heaven would have been different if her father weren't there?How was Gabby's character developed more when she was dead and could reflect on her life rather than when she was alive? How does this occur similarly in other books such as Before I Fall and If I Stay?How do you think Lilith saw herself in Gabby?How did Gabby and Angela's relationship change throughout the book? How did they see each other differently at the end?
Let me know how you like a shorter format! I'm also going to experiment with a format of reviewing that is my long evaluation of the book and how it impacted me, but with a summary in bold at the end for those who may not want to read as much. Thank you!