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William Sleator

Paula's Young Adult Literature Website

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The Boy Who Couldn't Die

Sleator, William. 2005. THE BOY WHO COULDN’T DIE. New York: Amulet Books. ISBN: 0810987902.


THE BOY WHO COULDN’T DIE is an excellent fantasy book.  Sleator pulls the reader in to the story from the very beginning.  Ken, the young protagonist tells the story through first person narration.  His best friend Roger had just been killed in an airplane crash and now, he is afraid to die.  This fast paced novel opens in Cheri Buttercup’s apartment located in New York City.  Cheri is a plump, middle aged psychic whom grants Ken invulnerability from death for a mere $50.00.  However, this invulnerability has been in exchange for his soul.  Cheri Buttercup is a zombie master.     


At first, invulnerability is a wonderful thing and Ken is quite eager to test it out.  Sleator provides enticing description and imagery as he describes Ken’s invulnerability.  “I held the scissors in the normal way and tried as hard as I could to cut off my right nipple.  It was like trying to cut a stone,” (P.15).  Next, Ken sets up a vacation in San Calao (an island in the Caribbean) to further test his invulnerability.  He wants to scuba dive with the sharks.  While on the island Ken meets a young scuba instructor, Sabine.  Ken is distant with her at first, but she sees his encounter with a shark and he begins to tell her his story.  He quickly becomes enamored with her and spends all of his time with her.  Ken begins to have some very tormenting dreams about murders, and he and Sabine discover that Cheri Buttercup is using Ken as an astral zombie to kill people at her will.  Living in the Caribbean, Sabine is very familiar with this practice of creating zombies and she provides Ken with some much needed information.  To stop these murders, Ken must get his soul back!  Ken and his family return home, but he and Sabine stay in touch through email.  He makes an appointment to see Cheri and she tells him that it will cost $50,000 to get his soul back.  Ken continues having these dreams and in each one he is provided clues as to where Cheri has hidden his soul.  Ken and Sabine set out to retrieve his soul from an underwater cave located in the frozen waters of an Adirondack lake.  School Library Journal states, “Ken’s increasingly desperate first-person narration, as he struggles to find his hidden soul and escape the zombie master’s ever more brutal commands, makes for a gripping read."  The cave was guarded by the cadavre zombie of his friend Roger.  Through gruesome imagery, Sleator tells how Roger looked as he hung floating ready to fight.  “One side of his blackened face was smashed in.  One of his legs was bent at an impossible angle.  He was clutching a long knife in his one good hand.  It was the worst thing I had ever experienced seeing him floating there, staring at us.  His face was too ruined to be able to read any kind of expression,” (P. 121).   Through a series of suspenseful and fast paced events, Ken gets his soul back and returns home.  When he and Sabine return to New York, a plot is devised with the police to catch Cheri Buttercup where she receives life in prison for her actions. 


This is a sure winner to grab the attention of those reluctant readers.  Sleator has done a masterful job of creating a storyline involving characteristics of science fiction integrated with elements of horror.  He has created a horror story involving zombies, being buried alive, murder, magical events, and a creepy plot twist.  ALAN Review states, “Just when you think you’ve solved everything, there’s a twist.”  And… there is a twist at the end of the story that will certainly intrigue all of its readers. 


Phillip Pullman 



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