Published by: Simon and Schuster, 19th January 2023
As an aspiring writer in an competitive industry, you hear lots of advice about creating "a standout concept" - something which will make the industry gatekeepers stand to attention. This is understandable as surely readers want exactly the same thing...a book that will grab them from the opening pages and make them forget everything beyond the story.
For me, and hopefully for middle-grade readers too, this is one of those books. Fabulously different, wickedly funny with a daring concept, Valentine Crow and Mr. Death is a book I'm going to be raving about for the forseeable future...
Valentine Crow is finally old enough to leave the Foundling Hospital and start an apprenticeship. But he definitely isn't his expecting his new boss to be Mr. Death. As Death teaches him how to reap souls, Valentine begins to get used to his new life. That is, until he finds out the next on his list of souls to collect is his best friend, Philomena Sparrow. Is there any way he can save his only friend?
With wonderfully unique world-building and sharp, witty writing, this book lives up to its spectacular front cover, weaving an enthralling story that is funny and heartfelt rather than scary. Yes, there are creepy moments and tackling the topic of death is certainly not an easy subject - meaning this story will not be for everyone. But underneath the humour is a story of friendship, love and loss, a beautifully thought-provoking and insightful view of death...and a pain in the backside boss called Linda, because, of course, even Death has a boss.
Valentine is a gorgeously created character - raised in the Foundling Hospital, he is eager-to-please, eager to see the world and extra eager to belong. I love the dynamics between him and Death and how Death endeavours to learn how to look after him. Although Jenni Spangler's representation of what happens after we die is very different to other books, such as The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, and may also be very different to what young readers believe or have been taught, I did find some true beauty in Spangler's portrayal. Certainly, tackling a subject which can be considered taboo, it's a great way of initiating discussion and I found myself soothed as well as entertained by this novel, with the fear of Death seeping away.
But, if you're worried this novel is going to be too deep, fear not. The cast of hilarious and endearing characters provides laughs aplenty. With two very chatty ghosts, an adorable dog, mysterious librarians and The Never, this is a rollercoaster of entertainment and action which gently tackles the ultimate question: Can we cheat Death? The format of the book is easily accessible and I loved the unusual way the text was broken up with illustrated thoughts and explanations - the kindred spirits page being my favourite. Full of truth and hope, this tale reassured me that our loved ones are never too far away.
A big thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me a review copy. Valentine Crow and Mr. Death is available to buy from today, 19th January 2023.