By Cynthia Ayala
There are three choices after death. Two realms that fight for power and one where the lost souls go to suffer. Ten hasn’t chosen an afterlife, and her family has made her suffer for it. Both realms want her and have sent their top Laborers to recruit her in their war, but with one side desperate to force her hand, the real struggle is surviving long enough to make her choice.
Firstlife is a riveting novel that follows a compelling female protagonist as she struggles to center herself and figure out her identity both in her life and her afterlife. However, that is easier said than done because everyone around her is trying to pressure her into their way of thinking. There is a lot of realism in the novel because the theme of choice is very prevalent in reality and the way religions (no offense) try to convert others to their way of thinking. It’s a strong message to young readers that they have a choice, that no one can force your way of thinking. That is, essentially, what this novel is about, two groups trying to convert her to their side and her struggle to follow her heart or her brain.
With a story that has such a strong theme layered within the story, it challenges the way of thinking that following the crowd is the way to go. Ten never changes; she just fights the struggle to follow what her parents want her to do versus what she wants to do. More importantly, though, Ten has no idea what she intends to do with her life, but that doesn’t stop her from fighting the oppression around her. Everyone thinks they know what’s best for Ten without actually knowing her. Showalter uses that to give an enormous amount of strength to her protagonist.
That has to be Showalter’s strongest asset, her ability to write and create such strong female protagonists. This character does not pull her punches and given everything she has been forced to endure, giving up would be easy. However, giving up would also mean losing her freedom, losing her ability to choose a future for herself. She is a wonderful character to read, very sharp, very snarky, and her attitude is not off-putting. It’s so easy to read characters that are so strong that they are almost unlikable because their attitudes are incredibly off-putting. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. Ten has a charisma about her that stems from her strength that stems from her willpower to keep her freedom and identity alive.
This novel has a powerful narrative to it as well as a fascinating plot. The characters grow, they are evolving, and that influences the plot, it develops the story and the plot drawing the reader into a fast-paced tale. It’s interesting to read about, and it gives an insight into multiple views of the afterlife that makes it relatable to many readers across the globe. (★★★★☆ | A)