Texting the Underworld

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Texting the Underworld Book Poster Image
Thoughtful, funny ghost story has haunting effect.

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age 18+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value
Religious belief, myths, and legends from around the world are blended together to fashion a unique view of the afterlife. Readers will learn a bit about Irish beliefs about banshees and death and get acquainted with some key religious figures from other cultures, including Anubis (Egypt), Nergal (Mesopotamia), and Oya (Yoruba).
Positive Messages
Conor learns that sometimes we're only able to choose the least-awful option -- and often we don't have any choice at all. Even when we have good friends to lean on, making choices can be terribly difficult. Still, being passive is even worse.
Positive Role Models & Representations
Conor is timid but true to himself. He resists his grandfather's well-intentioned urging to loosen up and break some rules. Forced into a difficult position, he learns to exert whatever control he can and to live with the consequences. He lies about Ashling's true identify but for very good reasons; his grandfather is a troublemaker with a spotty record as a father, but his backstory helps put him in a good light. Conor's parents are involved but somewhat distant: His mother is very busy with work and school, and his father is trying to push his son into following the path he wanted.
Ashling recounts her death at the hands of raiders, who struck her in the head with an ax. Death, of course, is an ongoing theme. One main character dies, and there's brief discussion of the death of a child in a playground accident.

Two characters kiss briefly.


One adult says "friggin'," and a few characters use the expression "cripes." There are a few references to "unmentionable" words.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An uncle who drank beer and belched is briefly mentioned, and a peripheral character suffers emphysema after years of smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in Texting the Underworld, it's a given that one of the central characters will die; the suspenseful question is who it will be. Love and inevitable loss are central themes. The blending of cultural beliefs about death, the afterlife, and reincarnation are sure to give children plenty of food for thought. It's a comforting read, in the end, but it might be a difficult read for very sensitive kids.

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Kid, 7 years old October 16, 2017

What's the story?

Spiders are scary enough for 12-year-old Conor. When a banshee named Ashling takes up residence in his game cupboard, awaiting the right time to keen for the death of someone in his family, Conor nearly loses it completely. The worst part is he doesn't know whose death is near. It could be his parents, his superstitious grandfather, his annoying sister, Glennie -- even himself. Waiting is driving him mad, and it doesn't help that Ashling, who died as a girl from an ax blow to the head 1,600 years ago, has begun tagging along to school with him. Conor's grandfather wants to volunteer as the death Ashling needs to be able to move on in the afterlife. Conor finds himself in the unlikely role of a hero traveling to the Other Land in a bid to change his family's fate.


Is it any good?

TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD at first seems like just another ghost story, but its relatable characters and good humor quickly sneak up on you. Author Ellen Booraem sets her story in Boston's traditionally Irish Southie neighborhood, a fitting backdrop for the Old World-New World and intergenerational conflicts in the O'Neill family. Conor's mischievous, not-especially-responsible grandfather is a gem. Conor emerges as an everyday hero, rising to do the right thing in the hour of need. There are no easy choices in this tale, much as in real life.
Booraem borrows elements from several ancient religions to stitch together a unique view of death and reincarnation. It's fascinating to contemplate and an interesting jumping-off point for further exploration of how different cultures view the end -- and beginning -- of life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the religious and mythological figures converging in the Other Land. What do you think of the way the author reconciles these diverse beliefs about death, and what happens after death?
  • Even the beings supervising the activities in the Other Land don't understand life and death and seek to understand it better. Why do you think the author chose to make these characters fallible, like humans, rather than all-knowing and understanding?
  • Conor's cell phone fascinates the denizens of the underworld. Do you like the way technology is woven into the ancient systems of the Other Land?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and stories of the undead

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