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Texting the Underworld
Cover of Texting the Underworld
Texting the Underworld
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Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is—as all banshees are—a harbinger of death, but she's new...
Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is—as all banshees are—a harbinger of death, but she's new...
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  • Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is—as all banshees are—a harbinger of death, but she's new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school. As Conor attempts to hide her identity from his teachers, he realizes he's going to have to pay a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

    "Got your cell?"

    "Yeah . . . . Don't see what good it'll do me."

    "I'll text you if anything happens that you should know."

    "Text me? Javier, we'll be in the afterlife."

    "You never know. Maybe they get a signal."

    Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem's work "utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical." This totally fresh take on the afterlife combines the kid next door appeal of Percy Jackson with the snark of Artemis Fowl and the heart of a true middle grade classic.


  • From the book

    Chapter One

    Death stalked the spider, pre-algebra book in hand.

    The spider was slightly bigger than a pencil eraser and definitely wasn't poisonous, this being 36A Crumlin Street, South Boston, Massachusetts. But it skittered and it scuttled all over the ceiling—if Conor didn't squash it now, who knew where it would be after supper.

    He thought about getting his sister to kill it. But Glennie would call him a wimp and would tell all her ten-year-old friends at school. And they'd tell their older brothers and sisters who went to Conor's middle school. There would be sniggering, maybe even a new nickname, and he hadn't quite lived down the old one.

    Which was "Pixie," by the way. Who nicknames their baby boy "Pixie," for cripes' sake? Brian and Moira O'Neill, 36A Crumlin Street, that's who.

    The spider was over his bed, preparing to drop itself and hide in Conor's actual, personal sheets. He weighed the book in his hand—three-quarters of a pound, easy. It would squish twenty spiders that size. But what if he missed? He pictured the vibration shaking the spider onto his face or, worse, down his neck.

    Standing on the bed, weapon at the ready, he imagined himself high in the mountains, Conor the Bold versus the Invader from Planet Arachnid, humanity's fate on the line.

    If only it were a humanoid invader. That would be something resembling a person, and people weren't scary.

    Not like spiders or snakes. Or heights.

    Or depths.

    The world was a lethal and unpredictable place. He felt this in his bones, in spite of the twelve totally uneventful years that had been his life so far.

    The bedroom door slammed open. "Supper," Glennie said, then saw that her brother was standing on his bed with his pre-algebra book. One side of her mouth curled up in a half smirk, hot pink with her mother's lipstick. "What are you doing?"


    She stepped closer. "Oooo, a big scary spider. Want me to get it?"

    "Shut up."

    "Wimp. Javier's here, if you care." She left. The spider scuttled away to the corner, where Conor would have to clear off his desk to get at it.

    Defeated, he headed for the stairs.

    Grump was coming in from 36B, the other half of the house. "Hey, kiddo," Grump caroled as they headed into the kitchen together. "How's the Land of Shanaya?"

    Conor's hand-drawn maps—some of real places, some not—took up fourteen extra-large spiral-bound notebooks. Grump loved the troll-infested Land of Shanaya, partly because its existence annoyed and baffled Conor's dad, but also because it was proof that Conor had what Grump called "the O'Neill Spark." Which went with the O'Neill Blue Eyes. And the O'Neill Black Hair, at least on Conor, his father, and Grump before he went bald.

    "Shanaya's good, thanks, Grump." With his grandfather standing there—big, beaming, confident, glasses perched on the bulbous end of his nose—Conor felt braver about the spider hovering over his desk. It was, after all, roughly the size of a pencil eraser. He took his place at the kitchen table with head held high.

    His dad shook his head about Shanaya but would never criticize him in front of a guest, even if it was only Javier. Everybody said Brian O'Neill would be elected to City Council within five years. Tact and relentless cheer were his campaign strategies.

    "How about them Red Sox, Pop?" said Dad, no doubt choosing the most un-Shanaya-esque topic he could think of.

    "Bums." Grump tucked his napkin into his belt.

    "It's only April. They lose early, they win late," Dad said.

    "Baloney," Grump said. "I'm telling you—"

    But then Grump...


  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 1, 2013
    As Booraem did in Small Persons with Wings, she uses mythological creatures (in this case, banshees) to tell a story that packs an emotional wallop. Conor O’Neill is a smart but timid seventh-grader, afraid of spiders, sneaking out, and leaving his Southie neighborhood to go to Boston Latin School. When a banshee straight out of his Irish-born grandfather’s stories appears in Conor’s room, he’s terrified that someone he loves is going to die soon. The banshee, Ashling, is new at her job, and she doesn’t know who will die or when. Since her mortal life ended hundreds of years ago with an ax to the head, she’s curious about the present day, and she masquerades as a new student at Conor’s school (armed mainly with knowledge obtained from outdated Trivial Pursuit cards). Eventually Conor, his sister, and his friend Javier realize they’ll have to confront the possibility of death head-on. In an affecting, funny, and provocative story, Booraem balances the seriousness of a novel about death spirits and finding courage with Ashling’s comical interactions with the modern world. Ages 10–up. Agent: Kate Schafer Testerman, kt literary.

  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2013
    Fantasist Booraem (Small Persons with Wings, 2011, etc.) turns her attention from art to another great human endeavor: death. Timorous 12-year-old Conor O'Neill is scared of spiders, doesn't want to play hockey and is dubious about leaving Southie to attend Boston Latin. When a banshee shows up, ready to keen for an imminent family Death, he is sent directly over the edge into terror. Who's to die? His parents? His beloved, Irish-to-the-core grandfather, Grump? His "soul-sucking demon warrior" of a little sister, Glennie? Conor himself? Cripes. Rookie banshee Ashling needs her Death; it's the only way she can move on from the Underworld and into a new life. Hoping to find a loophole, Conor, Glennie and an ailing Grump venture with her into the Underworld to talk to the Lady and undergo the test of the Birds in order to gain power over life and death. Booraem applies a light touch to her heavy subject. Iron Age-era Ashling eagerly, if inaccurately, adopts 21st-century slang and catches up with old Trivial Pursuit cards; the various denizens of the Underworld--a gleeful olio of afterlife mythologies--squabble like those who've been cooped up together too long. But she doesn't avoid staring death in the face, saddling her likably unlikely hero with an agonizing decision that, though framed in fantasy, is all too gut-punchingly real. Like Conor, readers will emerge from this adventure a little bit better equipped for heroism than before. (Fantasy. 10-14)

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    December 1, 2013

    Gr 6-9-Middle-schooler Conor O'Neill has a tendency to believe his grandfather's stories from Irish mythology and folklore despite the rest of his family's clear disdain for such tall tales. Teased for being afraid of everything, he is forced to face his greatest fears when a banshee shows up in his bedroom one night, looking to escort a family member to the underworld and earn her own mortality. The two become cautious friends as the banshee, named Ashling, decides to follow him to school with both humorous and disastrous consequences. When Conor makes the brave choice to head to the underworld and rescue a family member from death, he starts to respect himself. At times wildly funny, and at times creepily spooky, Texting the Underworld merges a realistic setting with fantasy, seamlessly creating a touching story full of suspense, action, and excitement.-Sharon McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA

    Copyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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