Conor O’Neil is in Hell. No, really. While chasing his dog, he got run over by an ice-cream truck, and now he’s sentenced to eternal damnation. He’s stuck in a corner of Hell specifically designed for his maximum torture — lined with bookshelves and droning educational radio programs. Then he realizes that his personal version of Hell might be someone else’s idea of Heaven — and vice versa. He sets out on a filthy, funny, and forbidden journey to search for his opposite number, accompanied by his repulsive pet dog, a depressed cross-dressing Viking, and Clarence, his personal devil. Can he do it? Conor is hellbent on finding out.
I’m going to start this review by saying that, quite honestly, this book will make most of you want to vomit. I can’t lie; there are some truly disgusting moments in Hellbent and they don’t stop at one little blip of a moment but a continual stream of horrid vileness. The warning label on my hardcover edition could not be more accurate if it tried.
That being said, it wasn’t all guts and goo. There was higher-thinking, big questions asked and a bit of adventure and peril thrown in for good measure. Hellbent is the story of Conor’s afterlife. He’s killed in an (rather amusing) accident and ends up in Hell. Not exactly where he’d thought he’d be heading after such a young and short-lived life but the rules are quite strict and he’s bound for his own little slice of personal Hell. After some time (no specific time because Hell doesn’t run by a set timezone like Earth) Conor forms a plan to not free himself but find a place in Hell that isn’t quite so hellish. Together with his dog, his own personal Demon called Clarence and a Viking, Conor goes on a quest for sanctuary.
I shall repeat, this book is not for those with a weak stomach or aversion to anything remotely disgusting. It doesn’t pull any punches possible and I did wonder about putting it down a few times as I wasn’t sure if I could take it. I’m glad I didn’t because it’s a smart-thinking book that questions morality, life and death as well as humanity itself. There is some clear research from the author about the philosophy of life and death as well as what it means to be human. I will say that sometimes, all the references to theology and philosophers did read a bit too much like being hit over the head by an Encyclopaedia sometimes. I wondered if it was always needed or even if a kid of Conor’s age would really comprehend it all and retain that amount of knowledge to reference later on. Maybe.
I think this book was worth me reading because Anthony McGowan is a talented writer and I was glad to have read something unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Though the amount of stomach-churning that went on and the sheer volume of “big-thinking” didn’t make it the easiest of reads. Who knows, maybe it’ll get some teens asking some questions and looking up ideas that they’d never considered before, which can only be a good thing.
Gross but good.
Published by DoubleDay, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books and is available online and in bookshops now.