Book Review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase

Revised 2/21/23: The HarperCollins strike is over! A new contract has been ratified, and this belated review is now public.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase
Cynthia Hand, 2017

How do I describe this book? For starters, I read it as part of this year's Christmas Carol project, and it's both the farthest from the original and the most respectful of it in a certain light.

Holly is a spoiled, mean, shallow rich kid at 17, when she's subject to her own three-spirits Christmas haunting. Being a modern teenager instead of an elderly gentleman, she declares the whole thing idiotic and ignores it. Then she's hit by a car and dies.

But Holly gets a chance to redeem herself after all, because the Scrooge Project, an odd hybrid of nonprofit corporation and supernatural society, hires a few actual ghosts as part of their team. So Holly becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Every year, the team member with foresight picks a Scrooge - someone who is a bad person but could do a lot of good if they change, who is also fated to die soon if they do not change. The team uses a combination of magic and mundane surveillance and other technology to plan and execute a Christmas Carol experience for that person.

Is this a very silly premise? Yes. It's extremely silly, it has lots of holes in it, and it only gets siller with the complication that the main story picks up when, six years into Holly's undead existence, the chosen Scrooge is a hot rich teenage boy.

But it's also somehow completely charming. Holly's narrative voice is modern and sarcastic without being grating. The supporting cast is full of amusing characters. The way the Project breaks down Christmas Carol into its component parts is amusing for a fan of the story and doubles as a decent bit of literary analysis if you haven't revisited Dickens in a while.

About halfway through I became worried that the story was painting itself into a corner that would have to end in an annoying way, but it actually managed to stick the landing, delivering something appropriate and satisfying that neither betrays the main character's arc nor A Christmas Carol itself. (It does leave some paradox-type questions hanging, but I think that's okay given the alternatives.)

As a fun, sassy, and surprisingly sweet holiday story, I enjoyed this quite a bit.