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*Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go (Circles of Heck)* by Dale E. Basye, illustrated by Bob Dob- young readers fantasy book review
Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go (Circles of Heck)
by Dale E. Basye, illustrated by Bob Dob
Grades 4-8 301 pages Yearling April 2009 Paperback    

The Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go is a crazy book, the first in a series of nine “Circles of Heck” books planned for children, which breaks all the rules and pushes comfort zones to bursting. Dale E. Basye has a strange way of viewing the world, and Heck is his brainchild.
“As many believe, there is a place below. But there are also places in between.”
With these words, Heck is introduced, drawing in young readers with simple curiosity. Generica, Kansas - what a perfectly, wonderfully, extravagantly mundane name for a city in which an epic life-after-death adventure begins.

Blue-haired thirteen-year-old Marlo is the sort of girl who does anything and everything for (negative) attention. Her bespectacled and well-behaved little brother, Milton, is a bit gullible and often crestfallen when he unintentionally plays right into her plans. Marlo’s thefts and meanness go beyond basic, childish orneriness to evil.

Her brother, whose eleven-year-old voice is just beginning to show signs of change in the form of mortifying squeaks, is hounded by his very own bully. Damien gives him wedgies, fire-crackers his pet ferret, abuses him in gym class - all of what we’d expect of a non-too-bright bully with no original material.

With these young, unfulfilled lives, a reader might be lulled into believing that Marlo’s manipulations and klepto tendencies and Milton’s bullying troubles will be solved in an amusing, enlightening fashion so as to warn naughty children everywhere off that terrible path…

Do not get comfortable!

In chapter one, the Fauster children, Marlo and Milton, die in a fiery marshmallow explosion at a typical American mall. Welcome to Heck!

With a band of musical lizard demons to welcome them, the siblings begin to understand their new predicament. Covered in globs of aromatic marshmallow goo, assorted garbage and with broken glasses, they wonder what this very new and confusing world will bring for them.

“Population Infinity… Plus two.” With this dubious welcome and proclamation, the gates clang closed and the children are trapped. Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the principal, explains the situation bluntly: Heck is where underage naughties toil for all time in a school-structured setting with spork-wielding demons to keep them in line - kind of like the other place, but for kids.

The young souls are not entirely accountable for their souls yet, so they are sent to this middle stop to be punished while they try to mature and await sentencing. With candies created to seal mouths closed and quiet, SAT’s (Soul Aptitude Tests) and serpent pens that bite - making an unfortunate young one sign in blood - Heck is not the happiest joint to find oneself dumped in.

Their shared un-joy brings Marlo and Milton closer, much to their mutual shock. Milton expresses it poetically: “Having a sister is like having a heart-shaped bruise.” The charm and joy of this book is the struggle for redemption as siblings try to create a real relationship while they navigate the ugly, sometimes scary and always disgusting world below.

A particular infamous purple singing dinosaur’s appearance will make for grins and groans - the first of many recognizable characters, culturally and historically. Pressed into service as teachers are familiar names whose misdeeds have awarded them an eternity of service as teachers for the kids of Heck - like Nixon, who teaches Ethics class. Atypically, Basye employs the use of a Foreword, a Middleword and a Backword, seemingly for novelty’s sake.

The First Circle of Heck makes reading fun with the rampant use of any and all literary devices, new vocabulary, historical figures, excellent grammar, visual scribbling and cloying, concise chapters. Author Basye has created a world that many kids will relish.

The fact that the story starts out where one might expect it to end - with the main characters’ deaths - should be a hint that Heck is not politically correct. With the near-constant presence of bathroom humor, boys will snicker and girls will enjoy making ‘grossed out’ faces. For adult readers, it gets a bit extreme; keep in mind that the intended audience is terribly amused with clean nastiness such as this.

If what it takes to get kids reading, absorbing convoluted history and considering morality is a little silliness, then maybe a few worn-out political jokes and a little (or a whole lot of) poop is worth it.
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  Carolynn Evans/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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