‘Gravepyres School for the Recently Deceased’ was, for a change, a read picked by my 11 year old and I was the reluctant reader. The horror genre and graves have never appealed to me and while I have learned to develop an open mind as I read, it was not still something I wanted to pick up in these COVID times. “Read it Amma please, I want to talk to you about it” he begged and I went on to read it, 2 hours at a stretch… and I am so glad I did!
What a delightful mix of fantasy and adventure, with completely unexpected touches of profoundness, I was left almost out of breath.
The book starts with Jose Srinivas discovering that he is dead and being led into the Gravepyres school by a delightful girl Misti. Morbid, not at all…infact, the ease and wonder of world that unravels almost makes you think he has entered a Hogwarts for the “transitioners”
From Professor Styx and Mathemythics, Scarestudies with Madam Morte , Cloudforming and “seeing” , and a Professor Yama, we are drawn into this fantastic world , ably guided by Mishi. endearing and heartbreaking at the same time, her innocence and simplicity always showing a hint of mystery.
The vultures form another striking and unusual entry in this book.( The last time I remember a lovable vulture was in the Jungle Book animated movie). While clearly vultures and the dead have been always seen together, I love that the author bought in these endangered birds in a positive majestic way
Why are deceased kids preparing for their exit-amination? What do kids who don’t pass do? We don’t really find out. As Jose remains in denial and longs to go back to his parents and little sister, he stumbles upon a solution, a possible seed of hope. As the adventure to find the Seed of Hope at the Eternal Spring where the River of Time begins, they are joined in by a rather comic Ranjubaba,a mad old hermit who joins them in search of the ‘shraddha beej’. The book then follows the quest to save the Lake as they encounter “notyetis” and Mr. Tannenbaum and his notorious unit.
Do they succeed in their quest? Do they save the school? Can Jose send his message to his parents?
For me, the end for me was just spectacular, heart breaking yet blissful. To say anything else will be a spoiler…
While I strongly recommend the read for children 10+, and the following conversations, the book will leave an adult and child with different experiences and takeaways and that it will be a book the kid will comeback to again, may be when older, makes it a winner for me.
The vultures call the humans “No-brain, meat-poisoning, concrete-loving uglifiers”. Did you know the vulture population in India down by 99.95% since the 1980s – from 4 crores to paltry lakhs- In fact it took the minds of many nations – an international team of over a dozen scientists and tests on vulture carcasses to pin the culprit down to diclofenac, a anti-inflammatory drug commonly administered to cattle. Vultures feeding on the carcasses of animals recently treated with drug suffered renal failure leading to death. Though wildlife conservationists have long been demanding that the drug be banned, the loss of the vultures has been mourned by few https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_vulture_crisis
The book brings in all the issues the kids today are aware of- dams , plastics, climate change, pollution.
It is obvious this book can open the door for conversations on what happens after death. Maybe it creates a world that children may not be scared of. While they may not be excited to go school and do homework even after death, it does confront death in a lighter way with an unknown seed of hope
While Mishi’s role in the school becomes clearer as the Forever Girl, I felt she was in a way liberated by her forgetfulness. Ranjubaba says she is almost like his Guruji “always in the now, so very present” . Food for thought in terms of the value we attach to memories versus the bliss of not carrying the emotional nostalgia as a baggage.
Professor Styx’s poignant remark “Learn what you must, unlearn what you think you know” , I think is the brilliant last word for this book.
Thank You author Anita Roy for this completely unexpected , and novel delight of a book!