Cole, Frank L. The Afterlife Academy
September 8th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher
Walter and Charlie would never have been friends, but when Walter is killed by lightning, he ends up getting a perfect score on his test for the Categorizer, Alton, and is sent directly out on a mission-- to protect Charlie. Charlie is very interested in paranormal phenomena, and has uncovered The Summoners Handbook, which makes him an immediate target of demons. It is Walter's job to keep him safe from them, even though he hasn't received any training at the Afterlife Academy and bungles his way through many things, unlike the triplet Guardian Agents he has met. Things seem amiss, and it's likely that there is corruption at the Academy. Dealing with that is hard enough, but Charlie (who has been inhabited by Walter's spirit) also has to contend with school bullies, a cute girl who might share his interests in the paranormal and his parents on top of banshees, wraiths, and shades.
Strengths: This was a decent adventure book with a nice twist, sort of like Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. Walter and Charlie both have their moments, the issue of corruption was interesting, and the demons were amusing in a The Screwtape Letters type way. It was well plotted and flowed nicely. Even though middle school issues, like fitting in and being interested in girls, are covered, this would be a good book for higher level elementary readers who want stories with demons but don't want them to be too scary.
Weaknesses: The bullying is never my favorite thing in a middle grade book, and it definitely was superfluous in this story. This would have been better if all of the bullying incidents had been replaced with information on how to fight demons.
What I really think: My readers want really nasty demons, if they want books on demons, and while books about magical schools do well, this book isn't really set at The Afterlife Academy. I wish that Walter would have been going to school while being assigned to help Charlie; it would be easier to find readers for this.