I’m reading the “Heck: Where Bad Kids Go” books to my 10yo at bedtime. The author envisions prepubescent hell as a kind of eternal middle school, with popular kids and bullies and pointless rules and no hope. Plenty of literary references — the eleven-year-old hero is Milton Fauster, and he has a friend in the underworld named Virgil.
Some clever wordplay — not up to the verbal dexterity of the Unfortunate Events books — these books are for younger readers, with lots of references to poop and snot, with the word “hell” always comically bowdlerized to “heck” — a demon even answers a phone “Hecko.”
During an elaborate sequence in the second book, involving the hero dressed as a stick of butter and an accident involving a bread truck, I saw the punchline a page away but still had tears in my eyes when I got to it. Another part that had me laughing was the commercial for “Jesús Christ Superstore… Prices so low you’ll come back for more.” The pitchman says, “Even though I can’t save your eternal soul, I can save you mucho dinero!”
Beyond the concept of good and evil and a pop-culture treatment of traditional halos vs horns, the Heck books have no more theology than Harry Potter has actual witchcraft, which means the brother-and-sister protagonists aren’t simply quoting slogans and dogma, they are exploring and discovering morality in the best tradition of YA novels. Plenty of teachable moments, to discuss things like popularity, peer pressure, honesty, etc.
My girl begs for more chapters every night.