Book Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Writing about the afterlife isn’t easy. We all have ideas – from preconceived notions to fundamental beliefs – about what happens after death, and it can be confronting to be presented with an idea that’s different to your own. In Level 2 Lenore Appelhans not only presents us with her idea of the afterlife, but takes us on a sci-fi-esque adventure of the afterlife gone awry.

Felicia Ward is seventeen, dead, and disappointed in the afterlife. She spends her days in a world of white – wearing a white shift, in a white hive populated with other dead teenage girls. She doesn’t need to eat, she doesn’t need to sleep. Aside from the occasional conversation with her new Best Friends for the Afterlife, Veronica and Beckah, her only entertainment in the endless monotony is her pod:

‘Its basic function is to allow you to access and rent out your memories as well to rent the memories of others. When you access your own memories, you can tag them with labels. This is so you can find what you are looking for more easily but also so you an advertise your wares to others on the net.’

Felicia relives her favourite moments in life over and over again, in perfect detail. Most of these memories involve Neil, the boy she loved. The one thing Felicia hopes for most is that she might reconnect with Neil in the afterlife. She certainly doesn’t hope that Julian, the boy who ruined her life, the boy she’s been trying to forget, will find her. But he does. And he claims she is of the utmost importance to the impending rebellion…

If you think you can guess how the book ends, I’d love to make a bet with you to the contrary. Appelhans is, quite frankly, brilliant in her ability to keep the reader guessing. Clues and reveals are sprinkled throughout the book, raising more questions than bringing answers. It’s definitely a page turner - I couldn’t wait to find out what Level 2 is, what’s going on, and what will happen next. This is fortunate for Level 2, because I didn’t care about any of the characters. Had they been in a less compelling setting, I would have given up. Perhaps a side effect of Appelhans’ afterlife is that everyone’s personality is condensed down into a caricature? Regardless of intent, the stereotypical depictions, and excessive emotional angst did not appeal to me.

What is incredibly appealing about Level 2 is its mash-up of contemporary fiction, religion, and fantasy. Applehans achieves a very clever balance of the three, and Felicia’s past experiences are interwoven seamlessly into the present narrative. Her memories of attending church become invaluable tools in her afterlife adventures, yet Level 2 adds to this a dash of mythology and The Matrix, and, rest-assured, never falls into the trap of trying to preach to its audience. As a digital native, I particularly love Applehans incorporation of modern technology and social media into her imagining of the afterlife.

What I love most about Level 2, however, is its perspective on adversity. Three-quarters of the way through the story it clicked with me. I finally understood what Appelhans was trying to say about Felicia’s journey, and it resonated. Such a moment is magic, and deeply personal. It’s the difference between a good book, and a favourite book.

Level 2 is released in Australia on 2 January, 2013. I heartily recommend that you put some of your Christmas money aside to grab a copy.

Allen & Unwin

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