It's that time of year where we want to get the warm fuzzies any and everywhere we can—including our reading list. I wanted a cozy holiday read when I stumbled upon The Afterlife of Holly Chase on bookstagram. And I'm so glad I did!
Genre: YA Holiday Retelling
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
Plot: 4.5/5 stars
Characters: 4/5 stars
World: 4.5/5 stars
Holly Chase is a failed Scrooge. She was warned by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future that she needed to change, but she was familiar with the schtick, so she laughed it off and went about her life. She didn't change, and now she's paying for it.
After her untimely death, Holly woke up at Project Scrooge—a company dedicated to changing the world one year and Scrooge at a time. And now she's their new Ghost of Christmas Past; not completely dead, but not fully alive either.
I could see them, right there in front of me—the people and places and things that other people saw. But I couldn't touch their world. I couldn't be a real part of it. I was just a ghost.
Fast forward five years and Holly is as lonely and unhappy as ever. Enter this year's Scrooge: Ethan Winters III, a "totally hot" boy her age. As she delves into Ethan's past in search of the best memories to present him with on Christmas Eve, Holly finds she and Ethan have more in common than their age and affluence.
Holly struggles at work when her desire to be with Ethan during his waking hours cause her to interfere with his journey and risk his salvation, both accidentally and intentionally. Her hesitation and resistance to doing her job so she could hang with Ethan made the plot drag a bit, but it also makes sense. Holly is undoubtedly someone who would make the selfish decisions she does. It made sense for her character, so I could be forgiving of that.
Cynthia Hand nailed it with this retelling. The beginning mirrors A Christmas Carol, and the plot and dialogue stay true to the original tale. This is an excellent tribute to Dickens’ original story. Hand's spin on the classic is fun, imaginative, and hopeful.
What makes it so great is that it’s a retelling within a retelling. Holly is visited by the three ghosts, dies and becomes the new Ghost of Christmas Past, and then works with the company to help another Scrooge—all the while learning what she should have initially.
The ending was perfect; I cried a little and actually snorted at the last line.
Hand did a good job capturing the voice of a seventeen-year-old “rich bitch." Holly knows how horrible she is and why she intentionally hurts people. She’s not a likable FMC, but that’s kind of the point—she IS a failed Scrooge, after all. Like the original Scrooge or the Grinch, Holly is not meant to be likable. But as the story progresses, you see the small shifts that add up to a nice, satisfying character arc.
Ethan, like Holly, comes from money and has some serious character flaws. But also like Holly, much of his nasty demeanor is hiding deep wounds he would rather avoid. That doesn’t redeem him, however; he can be cute and sweet with Holly, but he still proves to be a jerk.
That said, I do think Hand made him almost too mature and likable to be a Scrooge, simply to force a romantic relationship with Holly to make sense. He’s definitely a rude, miserly loner who hates Christmas, but he’s matured past some of his bad behaviors (mostly bullying) by the time he meets Holly. This almost takes away from any growth he might have had, as well as his relationship with Holly.
Or maybe he wasn’t exactly qualified to be a Scrooge, but was chosen specifically in hopes of helping Holly.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I will say about the romance is that it's cute, and I’m happy with the way their story plays out. In many ways, their relationship was a bad thing; it wasn’t true or built on a sturdy foundation. This (in my opinion) makes the ending so much better. I knew it could end in one of three ways, and was delighted with how Hand wrapped it up in a neat little bow.
But love doesn't always have to be about the happy ending. Love can be about beginnings, too.
I just have to throw in that Stephanie, Holly's coworker, is a cute dork you can't help but love, even when things surrounding her are a little suspicious. I felt so bad each time Holly was mean to her and admired how she stuck it out to be there for her friend.
In a way, the Project Scrooge community reminded me of Halloweentown from The Nightmare Before Christmas—everyone working hard for one night of the year, bringing nightmares to Scrooges in hopes of inspiring change.
The story takes place in modern-day Southern California and New York City, and highlights many problems with our world: the greed of the elite, our treatment of the less fortunate, mindlessness, etc.
But it's not all doom and gloom. Holly's journey teaches her (and readers) about the importance of friendship, following your heart, sacrifice, empathy, forgiveness, gratitude, and hope.
The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a very sad story featuring characters you aren't meant to like, but has enough comedic relief and a happy ending that keeps it cozy. It's a fantastic modern retelling that stays true to the original A Christmas Carol story.
I would recommend this story to fans of the classic tale, unlikeable MCs with good character arcs, or sad romance stories, as well as anyone looking for a cute, cozy holiday read that will spark all sorts of emotions.