Pratchett, Terry. Johnny and the Dead.

NY: Doubleday, 1993.

This is the second in the “Johnny Maxwell” trilogy of young adult novels, and it’s even better than the first one. Johnny is twelve and living in the Midlands, just trying to slog though adolescence. In the first book, he discovered that computer games can involve the Real World and that aliens are people, too. This time, it is revealed that the deceased aren’t really that different from the living, if you’re one of the few who can see and communicate with them — which Johnny is, which he discovers when he takes a shortcut through the local cemetery just before Halloween.

The old graveyard isn’t what it used to be, either, even though the citizens of Blackbury have been buried there for centuries. The Council doesn’t want to bother with upkeep anymore, so they’ve sold the place for five pence to United Amalgamated Consolidated Holdings as the site for a new office building. And the dead aren’t happy about it. Why didn’t anyone ask them?

Johnny, being a good kid and sensitive to the needs of others (when he finds out they actually have needs), takes on the task of saving the cemetery from development, and ends up bringing the dead into the modern world in the process. Some of them are less delighted with the future of their own times than others, but they’re amazingly adaptable — and highly inventive.

In addition to telling a very funny story (and this one is often hilarious), Pratchett always has a more serious point to make as well, and this time it’s about the importance of history in our lives — a perspective I have always agreed with strongly.


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