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Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherman

You've heard of the artist formerly known as Prince who is now known as Prince (again).  Well, this is the novel formerly published as The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud.  Its title (which I quite like a lot better than its current incarnation) was shortened to Charlie St. Cloud when it was adapted as a major motion picture.  I have not yet seen the film, and I thought I should read the book before I see the film.  And I'm glad I did.  Charlie St. Cloud (the character) is a six-foot-three, twenty eight year old man played by Zach Efron who is neither six-foot-three nor twenty eight years old.  I'm not sure how I feel about the younger, shorter St. Cloud because, let's face it, Efron can't pull off a twenty eight year old man yet.  I'm trying to reserve judgment until I see the movie, but still there are already mixed feelings about the casting choice for the lead character.

When Charlie's fifteen and his brother, Sam, twelve, the boys' are in a horrific car accident while out doing that which they shouldn't: joyriding in a neighbor's car while neither boy has a license.  In the immediate aftermath of the crash, both boys are killed.  However, Charlie is miraculously revived en route to the hospital while Sam is not.  In the in-between while both brothers are dead they make a promise to each other: neither brother will leave the other behind.

When Charlie is brought back, he returns with a gift.  When the sun goes down Sam emerges from the twilight and the brothers spend their nights together playing ball and going swimming.  Charlie's gift works only within the confines of the Waterside Cemetery where Sam is buried and where Charlie works as caretaker.  Charlie can also see other recently dead and in addition to his other duties in the cemetery, he helps the dead move on to the next level.  However, Charlie's gift comes at a price: he can never stray far from the borders of the cemetery, and he must never miss a twilight meeting with Sam or his gift and Sam both begin to fade.  As a result of the promise the brothers made, they are bound to each other and to the cemetery and neither one is able to move on.

Then Charlie meets Tess, a young woman and proprietor of a sail making firm.  Tess deeply misses her father, who died suddenly two years previously.  Since then she's lived an adventurous and daring existence until a nearly deadly practice voyage scares her to death.  She meets Charlie after this near death experience and only a week before she's due to embark upon a history making solo circumnavigation sail of the world.

Both Tess and Charlie have been crippled in their lives in different ways by their overwhelming grief.  When they meet both question for the first time the ways in which they have chosen to live their lives and cope with their grief.  Was the cost of their grief worth what they've missed and is it too late to change?

The cleverly, skillfully written book will have the reader returning to previous passages to re-read them when the truth is revealed.  This is a haunting, thought provoking book, and I recommend you check it out the next time you're in the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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