Title: The Catastrophic History of You and Me
Author: Jess Rothenberg
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: February 21, 2012

Back in 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross defined the process in which people deal with death and dying by outlining five stages of grief. These include denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. In Jess Rothenberg’s The Catastrophic History of You and Me, those five stages play a starring role. Except this time, they’re not used by the living to come to terms with loss, but by the dead.

Brie Eagen had a pretty good life. She had three of the best friends in the world, a little brother that she adored, a beloved Basset Hound, and a boy she was madly in love with. Then one night, shortly before her 16th birthday, that boy broke her heart. Literally. He spoke four of the most dreaded words in the English language- “I don’t love you”- and Brie’s heart broke right in half, killing her instantly. What should have been the end of Brie’s story is actually the beginning. Brie watches her family and friends say goodbye to her, looks over their shoulder as they toss roses on her casket, and sees her body being lowered into the ground.

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After wandering for a bit, Brie finds herself in Slice of Heaven, a pizza place populated with other wandering souls, including the oddly familiar and handsome Patrick. Patrick becomes Brie’s tour guide through the afterlife and helps her work her way through the five stages. Brie manages to pass through denial and wreaks total havoc during anger. Seriously, where was that girl when I needed revenge on someone who did me wrong? But things may not be exactly as they seem in the lives of those left behind, and Brie will find out some shocking secrets about those she loved the most. She has a lot to deal with, and a lot more to learn before she can finally reach acceptance.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me was a beautifully crafted story about letting go, moving on, and discovering what really matters most in both life and the afterlife. It was completely non-secular; although heaven was mentioned a few times, it wasn’t really geared towards any specific religion’s idea of the afterlife. Brie’s character is instantly likable, although at times I did want to shake her a bit because she seemed to be missing the obvious. But then, when you’re wrapped up in your own death, it can be hard to see what is right in front of your face.

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The emotions represented in The Catastrophic History of You and Me ran the entire gauntlet of the five stages of grief. One moment, it was humorous and spirited (no pun intended), then the next it was completely heart-wrenching. Although Brie remains very much dead, at its heart this really is a story about second chances at life, although it may not be the life one imagines. The book is written in a voice that reflects the narrator but is easy enough for an adult to read without cringing over teenage colloquialisms. I would definitely recommend this one to both teenagers and adults.