The Catastrophic History of You and Me

 
(i)

 

Dead teen loads up on pizza and angst in the afterlife.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Many books have a vision of life after death. It's worth exploring some of the more famous ones, like Dante's Divine Comedy, to see how they compare to this author's vision.

Positive messages

Since we're dealing with death, there are some big themes at work here like redemption and second chances, dealing with/accepting loss, and more. But there's also a big dose of jealousy and revenge.

Positive role models

Brie spends a lot of afterlife energy taking out her jealousy and rage on her ex-boyfriend and former best friend. She tries hard to redeem herself in the end, of course.

Violence

Brie's dead at the beginning after her heart breaks in two and she's grieving for most of the book, as are her family and friends. There's talk about her buriel and what it felt like to be in a casket. All those around her died in violent ways: suicide, accidents, in a fire ... Brie's haunting pranks eventually lead to a fractured leg. One living character writes a suicide note. Souls wither away on an island and then burn. Brie and Patrick go from heaven to Earth by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Many flashbacks to a fatal motorcycle accident.

Sex

Brie recalls the night she lost her virginity (at 15) through the phone call to her best friend afterward. Some innuendo and embarrassed nakedness after diving in the water and washing on shore. Brie catches her dad meeting her neighbor in a hotel room and embracing. Plus plenty of mentions of great kisses, but with few details.

Language

"S--t" and "bulls--t" fewer than 10 times, "bitch" a few times, plus a smattering of "dammit" and "goddammit," "hell," "eff," "douche," and "slut."

Consumerism

Nintendo DS, iPhones, Cherry Garcia ice cream, Wendy's Frosties, Sprite, and all the Disney princesses are mentioned more than once;  plus lots of one-off product mentions. Plus all the chapter names are song lyrics with their origins referenced in the book's Afterword.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A dead girl lights up, and there's a quick mention of "stoners" in the park.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that 15-year-old Brie dies of a broken heart at the beginning of the book and heads to the afterlife. So expect plenty of why-me's and grieving as she sorts through what it was all about. With her guide Patrick she pulls some pranks on the living out of revenge -- causing one broken leg in the process. Scenes in the afterlife include a creepy island where the dead waste away. Brie flashes back to her life and recalls phoning her best friend when she was ecstatic after losing her virginity, and one character comes out as gay. Swearing doesn't go beyond "s--t," uttered about 10 times.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Brie can't believe that four words could end her life, but they did. When her boyfriend Jacob says, \"I don't love you,\" her heart breaks in two. She witnesses family and friends in a state of disbelief and her own funeral. When she's buried the journey starts to the afterlife. It's a place much like her favorite pizza place on Earth with other teens sitting around all day -- inclduing Patrick, in his '80s leather jacket, who offers to guide her through the difficult steps that lead to acceptance that she's now in the great beyond. But first he takes her back to Earth to get some closure -- and perhaps a little revenge in the process. Everything is more of a mess than Brie could possibly have realized. Her family is breaking up, and is that really her best friend making the moves on her boyfriend?

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

The idea of this novel will grab many teens; the drama of love and loss and the afterlife and revenge all rolled into one. It's a big undertaking for a first-time author, and she's bitten off more than she can chew. Brie's afterlife is intriguing (mmm ... pizza) and the mysterious Patrick as a guide is a nice touch, but Brie's revenge plots are petty and overdone and her angsty wallowing is almost as bad. It makes her hard to like and harder to root for.

Then there are a couple of key moments -- like major revelations about Brie's father and her boyfriend -- where the storyline just drops off and barely gets picked up later. The ending swirls around even more ideas about redemption and past lives that make the whole ambitious package too muddled for most readers to sort through.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of dark teen novels. How does this one lighten up the idea of the afterlife? Does it do a good job?

  • Is this view of the afterlife similar to yours? Brie gets unlimited pizza in her afterlife. What food would you choose?

  • What do you think of Brie's revenge? Is it sweet or petty?

Book details

Author:Jess Rothenberg
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:High school, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dial Books
Publication date:February 21, 2012
Number of pages:400
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

This review of The Catastrophic History of You and Me was written by

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Quality

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Teen, 14 years old Written byChristianPointOfView January 23, 2013
 

Overcome

This book is an amazing book about a girl who must overcome her ever-changing emotions until she finally accepts her fate. She goes through 5 stages of grief along with all the things that come with them and eventually comes to terms with herself and her destiny.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence

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