BookBrowse has a new look! Learn more about the update here.

BookBrowse Reviews Boo by Neil Smith

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Boo by Neil Smith


by Neil Smith
  • Critics' Opinion:
  • Readers' Opinion:
  • Paperback:
  • May 2015
  • Rate this book

  • Buy This Book

About This Book



A unique look at the bonds of friendship - in this world... or the next.

Neil Smith's novel, Boo, is about teenagers but is not being marketed as a Young Adult novel by the publisher; although it could be, which is part of its appeal. And just as it is somewhat stuck between genres, Boo's characters are stuck between the afterlife and earth. Thirteen year old Boo, whose real name is Oliver Dalrymple, wastes no time in telling his readers that he died in front of his locker at middle school. He is unsure exactly how he died, that memory somehow making itself absent in his passing into his afterlife. He is now living in Town, a place roughly experienced as "up there" (America being "down there".) Town is a special place, reserved specifically for thirteen year olds; a place in which they must stay for fifty years until they "repass". It is unclear to anyone why they must stay this long, and to where they repass, or how that even happens, but nobody seems too bothered by any of that.

The story really begins when a character named Johnny Henzel arrives in Town. Johnny was also killed in front of Boo's locker. Johnny knows he was shot, but like Boo, his memory of the event is faded, and so he is angry at first, and driven to find answers about both of their deaths. Johnny knows that he was in a coma for a month before his arrival in Town, but he cannot remember the most crucial details of his death, or Boo's for that matter. He becomes fixated on a school shooter he refers to as Gunboy, and the boys and two other friends set on a search for this boy whom they suspect may have also passed into one of the thirteen zones of Town. Initially, their purpose for this journey seems straightforward, but quickly the story becomes a mystery, hinting that there is something the reader doesn't know – something that Boo doesn't know either.

The entire novel is written as a direct address to his parents. The telling of his story is an explanation of what happened both in his life and his afterlife as he discovers the truth about his death. The way he speaks to his parents reveals his personality – he is smart, kind, loveable funny, and, sadly, maybe a little misunderstood. Early in the novel, Boo reveals himself as a pariah in his former life, explaining the nickname "Boo", which was given by mean and unforgiving middle schoolers who were inspired by his pale complexion and ultra light hair color. In Town he retains his distrust of others, having learned that it is safer for him to remain quiet and at the outskirts of society.

Boo is also subtly developed through Smith's introduction of the landscape of Town. Both in Town and in America, Boo shows himself to be generous of spirit and scientifically inquisitive, referring to and conducting countless experiments (for which there is ample opportunity in Town, given its propensity for quick healing and keeping things physically the same.) In Town, Boo's discussion of Zig – or what the Townies call God – indicates his frustration with Zig's (or God's) mysterious ways, revealing just how much Boo is grounded in concrete evidence and the scientific process. He believes truth will always come from these. This philosophy becomes fascinating, because by the end of the story, Boo must stretch himself to accept that truth can come from more than just empirical evidence.

Boo and Johnny continue developing the cautious friendship they began while they were alive, carrying forward their "cool kid" (Johnny)-"not cool kid" (Boo) dynamic. But later, they break this down. Their journey to solve the mystery of their deaths pushes them to truly understand true friendship and trust.

Boo ends on a note of release and relief as the truth of their deaths is revealed. This story is one of second chances and new beginnings, of coming of age, and realizing that maybe you don't know everything you think you do. Boo and his friends' journey is one you want to discover.

Reviewed by Darcie R.J. Abbene

This review first ran in the June 3, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Smells Like a Teen


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Boo, try these:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo jacket

    Lincoln in the Bardo

    by George Saunders

    Published 2018

    About This book

    More by this author

    In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet.

  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth jacket

    The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

    by Christopher Scotton

    Published 2016

    About This book

    Timely and timeless, this is a dramatic and deeply moving novel about an act of violence in a small, Southern town and the repercussions that will forever change a young man's view of human cruelty and compassion.

We have 6 read-alikes for Boo, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start
discovering exceptional books!
Find Out More

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Coin
    The Coin
    by Yasmin Zaher
    A popular choice for book jackets in recent years, perhaps especially in the historical fiction ...
  • Book Jacket: The Night of Baba Yaga
    The Night of Baba Yaga
    by Akira Otani, Sam Bett
    When Yoriko Shindo gets into a brawl on a busy street in 1970s Tokyo, she has no idea what the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Anthropologists
    The Anthropologists
    by Aysegül Savas
    A documentary filmmaker, Asya is interested in the "unremarkable grace" of daily life, "the slow and...
  • Book Jacket: Mood Swings
    Mood Swings
    by Frankie Barnet
    This book begins with a bombastic premise. Seemingly fed up with the heating planet, the world's ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
The 1619 Project
by Nikole Hannah-Jones
An impactful expansion of groundbreaking journalism, The 1619 Project offers a revealing vision of America's past and present.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Very Long, Very Strange Life of Isaac Dahl
    by Bart Yates

    A saga spanning 12 significant days across nearly 100 years in the life of a single man.


Solve this clue:

L T C O of the B

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.