The Afterlife of Holly Chase
by Cynthia Hand
I think I bought this book last year, but I didn't get to it right away. I remembered that it was Christmas themed but not that is was an A Christmas Carol retelling. A Christmas Carol with a modern-day setting and a spoiled and vicious sixteen-year-old girl in the role of Scrooge. Or rather a story about what happens afterward if Scrooge doesn't change. I am not, in fact, mad at this. You may wonder how this book is 400 pages long when the source material is something like 88 pages. The answer, my friend, is a boy.
I happened to have read A Christmas Carol last week, so all of its quirks and famous phrasings are fresh in my mind. But, honestly, A Christmas Carol has infiltrated popular culture enough that even if you haven't read it, you probably will get many of the references. There are also some sly references to other classic Christmas works such as, "I thought up a lie, and I thought it up quick." The leader of the Scrooge Projects name is Boz which was a nickname of Charles Dickens. It is details like this that made this book worth the read.
Holly starts out thoroughly dislikeable. She is basically every girl that made fun of you in high school. Or every girl that you were afraid was going to make fun of you. She is mean and shallow and so deliberate about it that is is very hard to feel anything for her. Seriously, the entire plot hinges on the fact that she learned nothing from her night with as the Scrooge. She is unpleasant. More so than female characters are usually allowed to be which begs the question of whether or not the conceit of A Christmas Carol gives her more leeway. We expect her to be terrible and also we probably expect her redemption. Her slow thaw was masterful. It was reminiscent of Mary in The Secret Garden starting out as this awful spoiled brat and through love, learning to change.
It might be an expectation of holiday books and films, but the timeline of this book needless bogged down the plot. There was a lot of, "Weeks later" and the equivalent. It was probably an attempt to make the relationship between Holly and Ethan deeper, but it wasn't all that successful. Their relationship doesn't change much after they get together. I think that if the whole book took place in a month rather than a year, there would have been more intensity and forward momentum.
The best parts were the sheer meta cleverness of the concept. The whole idea of the Scrooge project is intriguing. The relationship between Holly and Stephanie was my favorite of the book because of how much you could see Holly growing. Holly's defining Scrooge moment was when she was unable to maintain a friendship with another girl. To see her go from taking advantage of Stephanie to being able to develop a genuine relationship was heartwarming.
And that ending was so, so satisfying.
On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she'd become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.
And then she died.
Now she's stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge--as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.
Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly's afterlife has been miserable.
But this year, everything is about to change. . . .