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“Layoverland” by Gabby Noone: Our guard doesn’t keep people out, it fences us in

Recently I’ve become captivated with books about the afterlife. It’s not as morbid as it sounds, it’s just that no one knows what happens after we die. In terms of fiction stories, this allows for infinite possibilities. In Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, in the in-between we each find our own library where endless books give us stories about the other lives we lived in other universes had we made different decisions. In The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Susie watches her family and friends struggle to move on with their lives from her own personal heaven as she comes to terms with her own death.

Now, in Gabby Noone’s debut novel Layoverland, Bea finds herself in an airport where she is forced to help souls replay moments in their life to confront the thing that’s holding them back and stopping them getting into heaven.

Two teens, one stuck atoning for her sins and one destined for heaven, fall in love in purgatory in this darkly hilarious and heartfelt rom-com, perfect for fans of The Good Place.

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell. At least, that’s what she thinks. On her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most–her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed for a mysterious destination, she’s confused, to say the least. Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news: not only is she in purgatory, but she has been chosen to join the Memory Experience team. If she wants another shot at heaven, she’ll have to use her master manipulation skills to help 5,000 souls suss out what’s keeping them from moving on.

There’s just one slight problem. Bea’s first assigned soul is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. But as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him. And to make matters worse, he’s definitely falling for her. Now, determined to make the most of her time in purgatory, Bea must decide what is truly worth dying for–romance or revenge.

Layoverland is a witty, charming and clever novel from Noone that remind us that no one is perfect. It’s a young adult story, which means it makes for an easy read, but it still contains enough complexity to keep us reading and keep us interested. There are a lot of complex themes in Layoverland: confronting fear, the need for closure, hope, intimacy, denial, selfishness, and karma.

Despite the fact that Bea is sassy and standoffish, everyone around her isn’t. Her sister, Emmy, her roommate, Jenna, her mentor, Sadie, and even the lost and misunderstood boy who was responsible for her accident, Caleb. None of these characters have a particularly ‘happy’ story – keeping in mind most of the characters we meet are dead – but they each understand something the Bea doesn’t: we need to lean on other people in our lives.

Which leads to the main message in Layoverland: Keeping your guard up doesn’t keep other people out, it fences you in.

At the end of the book, Noone writes:

“Keeping your guard up is easy. It’s better to scare people away than let them in. Especially when you’ve never really had someone around to teach you how to. So you go through your life thinking that when you let someone in, they can only hurt you, right? And you become this unapproachable bitch because you think it will keep you safe. And maybe it does. Until it inevitably doesn’t.”

My eyes well up.

“And what if you were so focused on protecting yourself that you never stopped to consider everyone else around you? And how you were unintentionally hurting them?” I say, my voice catching. “So maybe the point is that keeping your guard up is useless because any of us could get hurt at any time so you might as well… let other people in. While you can.”

– Gabby Noone, Layoverland

We need to let other people in. It’s a part of life. It’s what it means to love, to hope, to be vulnerable and, equally, to be strong. And no matter how much we try to keep people at arm’s length, if we really care about them and they care about us, they never stay there. All we’re doing is delaying the inevitable.

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