Friday, July 11, 2008

The Afterlife

Soto, Gary. 2003. The afterlife. Harcourt.

The Afterlife, by prolific and acclaimed author, Gary Soto, is both a serious and a humorous look at the meaning of a life. Upon his demise, Chuy is able to view his world from a new perspective, both literally and figuratively, as he floats above his hometown of Fresno.

He sees the distress of his friends and family, but notes that he will soon be forgotten, “a photo in a yearbook, nada más”. He realizes the value of a single life, as he tries with mixed success to save the life of a homeless man. He learns the uselessness of revenge as he faces his murderer. He meets Crystal, a ghost who may be his true love.

Characteristic of his short life, Chuy is able to float through the afterlife with a sense of wonder as well as a sense of humor. Watching the police break up a loud fighting couple, Chuy kicks back in the couple’s recliner, feet up. “This was better than a telenovela.” Later, unable to eat or drink, he spies a pot of coffee at his home, “I can’t believe it…I hadn’t even lived long enough to have coffee.”

In the end, the only answers to the mystery of the afterlife are the answers that Chuy finds for himself. He continues his journey; not regretful, but grateful.

The Afterlife is an intralingual young adult novel, liberally peppered with Spanish words and phrases. The use of Spanish gives color and authenticity to the story, however those readers unfamiliar with any Spanish words may find themselves constantly flipping to the included glossary. Other cultural markers in the story include a strong connection to the Roman Catholic faith, the close relationships between family and close family friends, and frequent references to typical Mexican foods. The Afterlife is not a stereotypical Mexican story featuring holidays, immigrants, migrants or food. Rather, The Afterlife is a fine example of Hispanic Literature that embraces the Mexican culture, yet appeals to any audience.

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