By Kimberly Sabatini
Available now from Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
There's something particularly fascinating about books set in the afterlife. It's a purely unknowable world, yet at the same time one that might actually exist. In Kimberly Sabatini's afterlife - the Obmil - you get three chances to examine your past and complete your life's journey next time. Elliot Turner is a Third Timer and knows this is her last chance to get it right. It's time to go past the surface.
Elliot's journey to self-discovery is complicated by two things. One, her best friend (who she's shared every life with) has suddenly decided to stay away from her. Two, there are two guys with whom she feels an instant connection - one intense and broody, the other cheerful and loving. As it turns out, both boys were pivotal to Elliot's most recent life.
I found the beginning of TOUCHING THE SURFACE somewhat confusing. The characters Delve into their memories and the first several Delves were rather abrupt. The content of the Delves was supposed to be somewhat mysterious, considering Elliot doesn't entirely remember what happened, but it took me awhile to get into the rhythm of when she'd switch between past and present.
But once I got into TOUCHING THE SURFACE, I loved it. Sabatini sets up some predictable elements, but she managed to make them play out in an unpredictable way. I particularly enjoyed TOUCHING THE SURFACE's treatment of love. Sabatini doesn't give short shrift to any of its forms. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, or friendly. And love in all its forms is important to living.
TOUCHING THE SURFACE is a terrific debut. Sabatini has shown that she can handle big ideas in an individual, human manner. I also liked the little glimpses into the journeys other people are making at the Obmil. This is Elliot's story, but she's in a world where everyone is struggling with their own story. It's an intriguing take on life after death. TOUCHING THE SURFACE might be a good novel to introduce contemporary fans to something more fantastical. It's also a good choice for speculative fiction fans tired of monsters and dystopias and looking for something a little quieter, if no less dramatic.