Have you ever thought what being dead would be like? If you have you might want to read this book.

There Will Be Stars - Billy Coffey

Thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I understand this book is part of the author’s Mattingly series although is the first book I read by this author. In my opinion this book can be read as a stand-alone and be enjoyed without any knowledge of the rest of the series.

I hesitated when I saw this book recommended in Net Galley as I realised the publisher is considered a publisher of Christian books, and although that is not a problem for me per se, I don’t usually read books within that category and it’s not one of the things I look for in my reading. But the description of the book, and the fact that the author has been compared to great American Southern writers, convinced me to give it a go.

With regards to the plot… I had an accident in January this year. I thankfully was fine (the car not so much) but I had a strange thought afterwards. What if I had actually died at the accident and what I went back to and I thought was real life wasn’t such but just the afterlife that just happened to look exactly the same as my previous life? It might have been the shock, but I kept thinking about that for a while. When I read the description of the book, I realised that what I thought at the time is somewhat similar to what the main character, Bobby, experiences. He has what appears to be a car crash at the beginning of the novel but wakes up the next morning with no clear memory of what had happened. Strangely enough he realises he can tell what’s going to happen next, as if he’d already lived that day. Eventually he is told that he’s dead and he becomes a member of an ersatz family of dead people who are caught up on what they call the Turn, whereby they keep again and again repeating the same day, as if they were Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, but with far fewer laughs.

The book is told in the third person but from different points of view, although the main one is Bobby’s. The assemble of different characters (and old widow who becomes the mother of the group, a preacher who’s lost her faith, a battered wife, a young boy who’s lost his alcoholic mother, an old teacher who only believes in science, and a young man with more brawn than brains) have very different views on what this place is. For some, it’s heaven, for others is hell, and others try to find a scientific explanation for it, it’s either a bend in the river of life, or a mirror. They all have secrets and unresolved issues and the author is very good at creating complex characters that are anything but clichéd. They are all flawed and that’s what makes them human.

We might have our suspicions about what is really going on and I very much suspect this book will mean different things to different people. It is a book about redemption, and about second chances (or even multiple chances) and about how we might not be able to choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to them and we can try to be the best version of ourselves possible.

If I already said that the book can be interpreted and read in many different ways (in another review somebody mentioned Groundhog Day meets The Twilight Zone, and yes, that’s true), the ending can also be open to many interpretations. I won’t go into detail but I think whatever the faith, or lack of it, of the reader, that should not impede the enjoyment of the novel.

For me this book falls into the category of literary fiction, and as such it might not be to everybody’s taste. It is beautifully written, with nice cadence and rhythm to the words, but it isn’t a page turner or a quick read. It is contemplative and it has its own pace (like the river mentioned by one of the characters). The novel delves into psychological, moral and transcendental questions and the characters are not immediately likeable or recognisable (perhaps with the exception of the young boy), but if you are intrigued by such themes and are prepared to go exploring, you might discover a pretty special book.