The first short chapter draws the reader in with a fast description of a car accident. Seventeen-year-old Kai is killed. He’s a street kid who steals a car to go on a joyride with his autistic younger brother Rod who also dies. From there, the story takes up in Hades, an in-between place in the afterlife that will determine Kai’s fate.
Whilst anxious about the whereabouts of his brother, he meets an anorexic girl who initially doesn’t speak. He names her Bilby.G after the bilby tattoo on her shoulder. They encounter an old blind man who tells them they are in Hades, the isle of the dead, and they must seek forgiveness for their earthly deeds before their souls will rest in peace.
Kai and Bilby.G lived unhappily and tormented and died prematurely and perhaps unfairly. They embark on a journey through Hades, overcoming Odyssean adventures and obstacles whilst learning to forgive others and themselves.
Alexander has woven their experience with parallels of the sea journey Ulysses, in Homer’s epic poem Ulysses, took on his way home to Ithaca. Kai’s Greek grandmother had told him epic tales of the creatures in Ulysses’ adventures that Kai must now confront. Kai and Bilby.G learn to show courage, strength, love and forgiveness – attributes they lacked before they died. It’s also about taking responsibility for their actions and redemption.
The characters of Kai and Bilby.G are convincing. They were risk-taking, self-centred teenagers before their somewhat unexpected deaths, unaware of the effect their actions had on others.
Although the setting of Hades is magical and fictional, the growth of the characters whilst in Hades, their feelings and emotions, are realistic and have the reader caring about their destinies. The setting has a surreal aura about it and the reader feels as if they too are navigating the mystical sense of place that is akin to shifting sands.
The plot addresses serious issues and themes presented in poetic form and layout, giving the text a fluidity and continuity that keeps the reader engrossed. Each of the continuing 49 chapters are individually formatted, maintaining reader interest and simplifying the layout.
Unlike prose, the poetic language in the verse is tight and cleverly honed so it resonates and delivers the required impact, especially in chapter one.
Serious issues such as drug use, family breakdown and rejection, eating disorders, disability and self-harm are skillfully woven into the storyline without being too overpowering, yet they are able to capture the essence of the characters’ back stories and current journey. The darker issues are balanced with the possibility of hope, romance, trust and forgiveness.
In Hades is a lovely novel and has much to teach teenagers about the journey of life and the consequences of choices made.
It is also available as an e-book. There are teachers' notes available for this book.
Title: In Hades
Author: Goldie Alexander
Publisher: Celapene Press, $14.95 RRP
Publication Date: September 2014
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult