The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
At a glance, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand is a novel I would never pick out from the bookshelf to read. I’m typically into anything Stephen King, LOTS of YA fantasy (Sarah J Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Holly Black, Victoria Aveyard), a few classics (Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, Flowers For Algernon), and then YA romance like the After series by Anna Todd.
I know what I like, and that’s what I gravitate toward.
I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA novels. Especially ones pitched as a retelling of the Christmas classic I’ve never read. When you look at the cover of TAOHC, with its doodles of stars and flowers, it screams “teenage audience.” Sure enough, the publisher name printed along the book’s spine reads Harper Teen.
But flip the book over, and this is what the back cover says:
On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three Ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways. She didn’t.
And then she died.
I admit I have an affinity for dark humor and anything paranormal. Naturally, after reading that, my curiosity piqued. So I added that puppy to my April Book Outlet haul. And I’m so glad I did.
The Afterlife of Holly Chase summary
The premise behind TAOHC is that unlike Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Holly does not wise up and become a better person. Consequently, she dies in a freak accident and spends the next five years in the afterlife working for an organization called Project Scrooge.
In this particular retelling, Living Holly was essentially a 17-year-old socialite. Her mother died of cancer several years before, and then her father—a renowned film director named Gideon Chase—remarried to a woman equally known in Hollywood circles as a fashion stylist and icon. The woman, Yvonne Worthington Chase, came across as a sort of Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep’s character) from The Devil Wears Prada. Not a nice lady.
But with her birth mother gone, her father always traveling for work, and her step-mother as a less than ideal role model, Holly inherits Yvonne’s same ruthless snobbery that turns the girl into Malibu’s own Scrooge. And an irredeemable one at that. Hence, Holly dies.
Her punishment in the afterlife is a job at Project Scrooge where she has to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. Every. Year. This means she spends every Christmas with her dead motley crew trying to influence each annual “Scrooge” to change their ways before they end up like her and the rest.
The twist is that five or six Christmases later, a 17-year-old boy named Ethan Winters III has been selected as the year’s Scrooge. And Holly is completely obsessed with him. This conflict invites a good amount of romance and guesswork for how the story ends as the plot reaches the end of the book.
Book review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
I gave The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand five stars on Goodreads. I haven’t read Hand before, but if her other works share the same style—snarky, quick-witted humor—I definitely plan to read more. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
“My name’s none of your business.” I tried to focus on my fake reading.
“Ah, don’t be like that,” said the guy. “I’m just trying to make conversation.”
I lowered the newspaper. He had slick dark hair and a farmer’s tan, but it was easy to see that he thought he was a ten while he was actually more of a seven, and he was used to women being impressed by him. The kind of guy with a ten-thousand-dollar wristwatch.
“Do you have a good lawyer?” I asked him.
His cocky grin disappeared. “What?”
“I’m seventeen,” I said loudly. “So I’ll ask you again: Do you have a good lawyer? Because you’re going to need one if you get involved with me.”
He took off.
Memorable exchanges like this one made it difficult to put down TAOHC. You could read the story cover to cover in one day if you wanted to. What’s more, the love interest between Holly and Ethan hooked me early on, and I really enjoyed their conversations and dates around the city. I was rooting for their relationship, thinking I knew their fate.
I was wrong.
The ending caught me off guard, and I almost docked a star for it, but after mulling it over, I’m okay with how the book ended. Spoiler ahead.
They don’t end up together. This sucks for us folks who rather enjoy when romances in light-hearted stories get happy endings. But I understand the story wasn’t about Holly and Ethan—it was about Holly.
Other stories you might consider
If you’re like me and you enjoy romantic themes or relationship conflicts, here are some recommendations:
- Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
This is a standalone YA fantasy novel with murder mystery elements and all kinds of love-relationship conflicts.
- The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman
Standalone literary fiction from the perspective of a modern man. The ending is very much open for interpretation.
- Romance Is a Bonus Book
Here on the blog, I try to share more than just books. This one is a K-drama currently streaming on Netflix for the US. The main characters are in their 30s and the themes and conflicts are more geared toward that season of life. Highly recommend.