“The fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” – Charles Darwin
Noah Hipwell is fifteen-years-old, has been expelled from school for standing up to a bully, lives with his single and ::gasp:: never married mother, and, oh, Noah also happens to be openly gay, which his ultra-conservative, Bible-thumping grandparents love! ::insert epic sarcasm here::
Dot Hipwell, Noah’s mom, is a rebel. She’s about the best mom Noah could ever ask for because not only doesn’t she care that he’s gay but she’s also not afraid to stand up to her parents’ attempts at coercion—you know, the folks who think that Noah should just choose to quit being a homosexual. There is one thing Dorothy Hipwell is not, though, and that’s a pushover, so when her parents take drastic measures to help their daughter and grandson see the error of their ways, bullying them into redeeming their everlasting souls by leaving their sinning lifestyles behind them, it forces Dot and Noah into a rather interesting situation.
The Soul Warriors are the soldiers of salvation, the enemies of evil, the vanquishers of vile… you know them—the piety police—and they’ve been employed to give Dot and Noah a little taste of what Hell might be like if they don’t repent and conform immediately. You see, Dot and Noah have been sent to Helleville, a town populated by other folks who have been judged by friends, neighbors, and family members to be lacking in the right virtues and character traits—namely, that they don’t look and/or behave the way the self-appointed moral authority believe they ought to. But Helleville isn’t populated by only regular folks. No, Helleville also boasts a plethora of ghoulies and ghosties, vampires and zombies and icky-blobby things that make this little burg a place unlike anything its residents have ever known.
Adapting to living in a town where the school is run by a very…uh, under-worldly headmaster, where every house has its own ghost, where the walking dead run businesses, and where the key to contentment is the ability to accept and make the best of a rather strange situation, is the key to spoiling the Soul Warriors’ ultimate goals. There is no “scared straight” malarkey in Helleville. There is only perseverance and strength of character, though that doesn’t mean its residents don’t want to find a way back to their lives in the “other world”. It only means that they will survive until they overcome, which eventually proves sanctimony doesn’t pay.
All of this strange business runs alongside a new romance between Noah and a boy who has been in Helleville only slightly longer than Noah and his mom. Alex Webber is the boy that Noah takes an interest in, although it’s pretty obvious that Matthew—the gorgeous and smart jock—has his sights set on Alex too. But it’s Noah that Alex chooses, and it’s then that Helleville takes a turn for the sweet, filled with the first blush of new love that’s also tested by the desire to return to the lives the boys had left behind, all while dealing with the very real possibility they could be forced to maintain their new normal.
Helleville is Hayden Thorne at her creative and imaginative best, delivering a story that’s brimming with twists and turns and more than a few surprises that, in the end, gave me a very smug sense of satisfaction, in a “HA! So, take that” kind of way, which I loved to bits. There are lessons to be learned about prejudice and about the cosmic justice that comes back to bite the pompous on their pious bums when they presume to pass judgment.
Do the residents of Helleville find their happy endings, each and every one of them? You’ll have to read and find out for yourselves. If you love YA fiction, a blend of realism and the impossible, and a sweet sip of young love to round things out nicely, I don’t think you can go wrong with Helleville.
Reviewed by: Lisa