Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck
To paraphrase Sartre, heck is other people. For Marlo and Milton Fauster, it’s each other. The Fauster siblings are polar opposites; Milton is bookish and bullied while Marlo is tough and angsty. Both are intelligent, and after their deaths, become trapped in Heck, the underworld school run by Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the demon principal. Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck is the second book in the Circles of Heck series.
Rapacia focuses on Marlo, who died at the end of the first book. In the underworld, she is met by Principal Bea “Elsa” Bubb and Assistant Principal, the Grabbitt, a large metal rabbit with a penchant for rhyming and tempting greedy children. In short order, Marlo has to deal with a malfunctioning assistant principal, an evil math teacher, mean girls, and a plot to steal diamonds made from the tears of angels. Bea “Elsa” Bubb spends her time trying to outdo Lillith Couture, the Devil’s Advocate (and girlfriend). Milton, reanimated, takes on figuring out what happened to the boy who accidentally killed him in the last book, and his newfound fame as the reanimated boy, bringing him unwanted attention from the most unlikely places. I have not even mentioned Mallvania, the great mall that functions as both a lower circle of hell and a lower circle of heaven.
I enjoyed this book immensely, much more than I thought I would. It teaches children about the pitfalls of greed, the importance of team work, and learning to love yourself for who you are. It just does it with a truly twisted sense of humor and often laugh-out-loud point of view. The concept of hell as a middle school is a wonderful twist on Dante’s circles of hell, one that reaches anyone who has ever been in school. The book thinks nothing of making a joke, like Mallvania having a “Jesus Christ Superstore” or almost lawyer named Algernon Cole giving out coleslaw instead of business cards. The book takes all of these absurd jokes and runs as far with them as possible, which is the biggest problem with the novel: its inability to end a joke, which go from funny to one step too far.
With its tendency to take things too far, it’s a bit dark for children, but definitely worth the read. I laughed, I felt for Marlo and Milton, and I anxiously await the next book.