On the day of her murdered sister Megan’s funeral, Alice receives an email from her. Ignoring it and deciding it’s a horrid joke, she then receives an invite to Soul Beach from Megan.
Soul Beach is a virtual world inhabited by the young, beautiful and… dead. As she revels in being able to talk to Megan again, though discovers she can’t find out anything from Megan about her murder at this point Alice finds herself more and more obsessed and addicted to the glamorous virtual world and getting to know her new friends, including all American Danny. From her unique position as a visitor, Alice is desperate to solve the murder and help her new friends as much as she can.
I adored the concept of this novel. In my own WIP I’m concentrating on how someone continues with their life after a tragic event such as a murder, and Harrison’s exploration of this and the ever important contemplation of life after death is intelligently written, but accessible and enjoyable for teenagers. Harrison does not trivialise Megan’s murder and the aftermath is poignantly explored through Alice and her family. When someone is taken from you so awfully, how do you go on with everyday life? Also when someone dies, what you do if you could talk to them again? What would you give and how much would it mean? We all have things we wish we could say to lost loved ones and so I really related to Alice and her desire to spend time with Megan again and understood her obsession.
The addiction to Soul Beach was another interesting strand of the novel. I’m sure Harrison intended the obsession with the site to mirror teenage reliance on the internet and sites like Facebook, but thankfully Harrison just misses making this didactic and putting off readers. I was particularly interested in how Alice seemed to be fading from the real world and existing more, being alive more, in Soul Beach. How can a person feel more real in a virtual world and what happens when this is the case?
The world of Soul Beach is seductive but also has a less comfortable side; everyone has sex to pass the time and there isn’t really much else for the dead teenagers to do. Everyone is good looking, something human Alice is a little intimidated by, understandably. I loved the development of her friendship with Danny, who is happy to talk to someone with knowledge of the living world and a diverse set of interests.
This is the first in a trilogy, the second Soul Fire will be published in July and I cannot wait to read it. Harrison has left a lot of questions and mysteries to be explored in the following books, particularly around Megan and why she was murdered that I am certain will come to light. Soul Beach poses some deep and interesting questions about the afterlife, reality and grief in an accessible and unpatronising dark novel.
This is an assured debut and a compelling opening to a new trilogy for YA lovers. Definitely worth checking out! The very lovely Nina at Indigo/Orion kindly provided me with a copy of this for review and it was signed by the author as well! As usual, my review is honest and unaffected by whether or not I received the book from the publishers, author or went out and bought it myself.
Recommended if you’re a fan of: British YA
– Contemporary YA with a spooky twist
-Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones or any other books about life after death.