reading prompts wondering

I woke up dead. At the mall.

— Judy Sheehan

I woke up dead at the mall

This is the opening line of an intriguing YA novel of the same name by Judy Sheehan.

It is the story of 16-year old Sarah who, after being poisoned at her father’s wedding, finds herself among other newly murdered teens at the Mall of America. Sarah and her new friends have to let go of their past in order to ‘move on’; if they don’t, they risk walking the mall, reliving the last moments of their death, for eternity.

However, as much as I enjoyed this story, this post is not meant to be a book review (but you needed background).

What the book did was make me wonder about ‘afterlife’. I am not usually prone to thinking this way, but a good story should make you wonder ‘what if?’ — and it did.

The Mall of America in the story is a regular shopping mall, frequented by the living. The difference (or maybe there is no difference … hmmm?) is the dead also inhabit the mall, moving around with the living, but also with their own special floors and an elevator by which they can ‘go back’ and access the rest of the ‘living world’.

As a teenager, there would have been a certain appeal at spending all eternity at the mall. Especially a mall where everything is free, and you can eat whatever you desire at the Food Court without fear of getting fat or pimply.

I can see why Judy Sheehan chose this place as her primary setting; it lends itself to so much analogy if you are prone to probing deeper into these things rather than just enjoying the tale at face value.

As an adult, I feel that being stuck at the mall for longer than absolutely necessary would be a fate worse than death!

So if this is what happens, as I am no longer a teenager with access to the mall, where would I like to end up? (Let’s pretend we have a choice.)

As the main goal of being in this quasi, sorting-yourself-out, limbo-land is for you to eventually be ready and want to move on, it would need to be somewhere desirable yet increasingly irritating over time. The last thing you’d want would be to end up being stuck there forever because you’d overstayed your time. (In Judy Sheehan’s story, the overstayers end up in a nightmarish, sleepwalking state — walking in an endless loop, reliving their final moments and unable to enjoy the benefits of the mall.)

For me, this would have to be one of those day spa places or a health retreat. Right now, the idea of: having someone cook for me and make my bed; having ready access to endless massages and facials; and being able to choose from a range of activities from yoga to bushwalks — all seems a blissful and highly desirable way to spend my afterlife. At the same time, I do imagine I would become sick of it after a while (a very long while) and would want to move on to new challenges and experiences.

ID-100317189 health spa
Image courtesy of Rattikankeawpun at

Not that I savour the idea of dying, especially at someone else’s hand, but if that were to happen (and who knows what our fate is, really?), then I would be happy for my tale to be I woke up dead at the health spa. (Note the capital ‘I’ in my title; I do not like the increasing use of the lower case ‘i’ in this context.)

I quite like the idea of everyone being able to access their own ‘dream location’, spending their post-death hours in their own version of heaven while making sense of their ‘life’ and sorting out what they want to do next.

I love what books can do to you! If you let them.


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