Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (August 26, 2014)
Main character Leigh lives in a cemetery. Okay, let me clarify…her whole family lives there. Leigh’s father buys a “memorial park” and surprise-moves the family inland from their coastal home all while Leigh and her sister Kai were visiting their grandparents.
Her father Wade sticks Leigh with working the family business especially because he can’t seem to deal with the sadness that goes along with owning a cemetery. Leigh works after school and on weekends in the office but finds herself walking the grounds to assist customers in selecting the perfect plots for their loved ones. The customers are divided into Pre-Need and At-Need with the former being family members who are getting their wills and estates in order while the latter are those who have just some kind of tragedy. During this time, Leigh eats yorks aka peppermint patties to make it manageable. There are parts that are incredibly sad and beautiful. The book shares a bit about who visits cemeteries and who brings flowers to their loved ones… and of course tackles the questions of their relevance.
Leigh’s mother is distant. Not only has Leigh lost her best friend (I’ll come back to that in a minute) but her mother disappears each weekend that later extends into long weekends returning to their coastal home to be with her friends. When her daughters beg to go, she discounts their sense of missing home by saying that Leigh and Kai would be bored since she would be spending time with her art friends.
Readers meet Leigh’s best friend Emily in flashbacks while she is somewhat attempting to become friends with Elanor, homeschooler and the daughter of the town florist who visits the cemetery to make deliveries. There are numerous parallels in their friendship and Leigh feels guilty that she can’t be with Emily anymore while simultaneously believing she is somewhat cursed. When the new groundskeeper Dario, who happens to be Mexican, tells her that she is the patron saint of death because she is born on el Dia de Los Muertos, readers begin to learn why Leigh feels so troubled.
This is a novel with numerous literary references especially since Leigh is reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses for homework while working in the cemetery office. There are allusions to numerous other literary texts.
This novel includes a great deal of focus on various cultures especially with Dario being Mexican. The author incorporates Spanish throughout and sometimes she does direct translations but she doesn’t always dumb it down for the reader. She expects us to be smart!
There is a great deal of focus on school bullying and homeschooling; the story tackles the struggles of a family who have a family member with cancer; it directly speaks to those of us who have lost loved ones and friends at an early age; and, it includes a story of transformation… and driver’s education!
It’s a smart story that as I mentioned before expects you the reader to be smart too. I loved that about the book. It made me cry… it also made me laugh. And, I learned a thing or two. I absolutely loved it and so much of the storyline resonated with my life experiences.
In the letter from the author, readers learn that this story is somewhat based on the author’s real life! Longo’s parents bought the town graveyard and the author actually spent a time working in the office selling gravestones so she can relate to her character.
This is the author's debut novel. Loved her voice! Looking forward to future works by her.