In this gripping exploration of a futuristic afterlife, a teen discovers that death is just the beginning.
Since her untimely death the day before her eighteenth birthday, Felicia Ward has been trapped in Level 2, a stark white afterlife located between our world and the next. Along with her fellow drones, Felicia passes the endless hours reliving memories of her time on Earth and mourning what she’s lost—family, friends, and Neil, the boy she loved.
Then a girl in a neighboring chamber is found dead, and nobody but Felicia recalls that she existed in the first place. When Julian—a dangerously charming guy Felicia knew in life—comes to offer Felicia a way out, Felicia learns the truth: If she joins the rebellion to overthrow the Morati, the angel guardians of Level 2, she can be with Neil again.
Suspended between Heaven and Earth, Felicia finds herself at the center of an age-old struggle between good and evil. As memories from her life come back to haunt her, and as the Morati hunt her down, Felicia will discover it’s not just her own redemption at stake… but the salvation of all mankind.
About the Author
Lenore Appelhans has been blogging about books since 2008. After reviewing hundreds of them, she decided to write one. She is the author of The Memory of After, The Best Things in Death (an e-short story), and Chasing Before. Lenore also wrote Chick-o-Saurus Rex, a picture book illustrated by her husband, Daniel Jennewein. She lives in Frankfurt, Germany, but loves to travel, so you can often find her on planes—at least until she learns how to teleport. Visit her online at PresentingLenore.Blogspot.com and on Twitter @LenorEva.
Read an Excerpt
I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD. I used to say it a lot. When my dad suggested I turn off the flashlight I thought I so expertly hid under my covers. That time youth pastor Joe told us to pipe down at the church lock-in. The balmy summer night I convinced Autumn to sneak out after midnight so we could dance in Nidda Park, arms outstretched to the stars. But then I died.
And now I can’t sleep. Except, that is, when I access my memories of sleeping. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve combed through the seventeen years and 364 days of my life, searching for those rare uninterrupted, nightmare-free stretches of slumber. Because sleep is my only real break from this endless reel of memories, both mine and those I’ve rented.
Naturally, I’ve compiled a top ten. Most of the list includes Neil, though I often revisit a memory of being cradled on my dad’s chest as a baby. It makes me feel like nothing bad could ever happen to me.
His lullaby envelops me in such warmth, I can almost forget I’m trapped here in this pristine hive with a bunch of other drones. All my age, all from the United States, all females who died in accidents in the early twenty-first century. And all so addicted to their personal memory chambers, they barely ever venture out.
Not that I’m not. Addicted, I mean. It’s just that everything’s hazy when I’m out of my memory chamber. I don’t even remember how I got here. And though I do retain names and faces and relevant details of my fellow inmates, I never seem to be able to hold on to much else. At most, there are snatches of my conversations with Beckah and Virginia, but these fade in and out of my consciousness like barely remembered dreams. The three of us are the only ones who spend time in the communal area at the center of the hive. And sometimes, before we are compelled to heed the siren call of our chambers, we sit awkwardly on the polished, blinding white floor that matches the color and texture of every surface in our godforsaken prison. We muse about what this place might be, if this is all we have to look forward to for the rest of eternity, and about how strange it is not to have to eat or drink, or sweat or pee.
But we rarely talk about our deaths. We don’t remember much about them after all this time anyway. We try to keep it light, inconsequential. I suggest “movie nights,” where the three of us pull up memories of the same film in our chambers and then get together to discuss the details until our thoughts are too cloudy to continue. Virginia never gives up in her attempts to teach us back handsprings and complicated lifts, but I don’t mind because my body, entirely numb in this afterlife, doesn’t feel the pain of always crashing solidly to the floor. Beckah prefers to chat about books and where on the network to find the best quality memory editions of her favorites.
That’s what I plan to do now, to search again for a precise memory version of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Back in high school it was one I skimmed, which means accessing my own memory wouldn’t do much good. I’ve discovered it’s one a lot of people skim, despite its relative brevity, because I’ve yet to find a deep, meaningful reading of it, and I’ve accessed at least two hundred copies by now.
But before I embark on my search, I decide to say hi to Neil.
I lie down in my airy chamber and fit my hands into the grooves at my sides, feeling a slight zing and a rush of endorphins as my skin connects. Above me the hologram interface lights up, and I use my index finger to scroll through my memory folders until I find one of my favorite memories of Neil. I push play, and I’m there.
Ward, Felicia. Memory #32105
Tags: Ohio, Neil, Hiking, Youth group, Favorite
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It’s one of those gorgeous spring evenings I can never get enough of, when the trees burst with fresh, impossibly green leaves and the air is fragrant with promise. I am nearing the end of a daylong hike with the girls from the church youth group, and I nod from time to time as if I’m listening to the chatter around me. The talking barely registers because my head swirls with impressions of last night. Of how close I sat to Neil in the back of the van on the way up here. How casually, and without looking at me, he shifted the coat on his lap until it spilled over onto mine. And then how, without missing a beat, he trailed his fingers down my forearm and let them rest on my wrist, as if to take my pulse. How awareness of my surroundings faded as I zoned in on the slightest movement of his hand inching forward, slowly, tantalizingly. How my skin tingled and my own hand ached to touch him back.
And I am going to see him again soon. Very soon.
“Felicia?” Savannah snaps her perfectly manicured fingers in my face. “Don’t you think I’d make an ideal Esther? Pastor Joe says I’m too blond.” She huffs, shaking her head so her long golden waves shimmer in the fading sunlight. “He says Esther should be played by someone with dark hair. Like you. But no one really knows what Esther looked like. It’s all conjecture.”
“Black wig,” I manage to get out, my face flushing as I remember the intensity of Neil’s gaze on me last night as we got out of the van, the last time I saw him before the girls and guys split off to our separate cabins.
“Are you getting sick?” Savannah recoils, and immediately reaches into her pink purse for her bottle of hand sanitizer. My nostrils fill with molecules of artificial peach. She doesn’t wait for my answer but moves away from me, catching up with some of the others, leaving me trailing behind.
I pick up my pace when I see the lights of our cabins through the trees. My heart starts pounding, and I stuff my hands into the pockets of my hoodie. I look up, and I see him. He’s at the edge of the fire pit, joking around with Pastor Joe and Andy as they light kindling, trying to get a fire going.
Neil looks up and sees me too. His blue eyes twinkle. His smile is so luminous and pure, it’s like he’s been saving it up his whole life just for me. Andy pokes him in the side with a twig and whispers something into Neil’s ear that makes him blush. Neil punches him lightly on the arm, and Andy shakes his head, snapping the twig in half.
“Hi,” I say when Neil approaches. My giddiness at being this close to him again bubbles up in my throat, and I giggle. I want to hug him. Really hug him. But not here. Not in front of Pastor Joe and Andy.
“Hey!” He reaches out and tugs playfully on the strings of my hoodie. “Want to go for a walk?”
I giggle again. “It’s not like we haven’t been walking all day.” The guys group went hiking too but took a different trail. A more challenging trail.
“Oh.” Neil blushes, his smile faltering, and he runs one of his hands through his brown curls. “You must be exhausted.”
I am. I’m also parched, and sweaty. My shoes are covered in mud. “I’m okay.” I sigh. I’d love to change outfits. “But maybe I’ll go in and grab another bottle of water at least.”
“No need.” Neil’s smile is back to full force. He leads me over to where he has stashed his backpack next to a tree, and he bends down to pull out a bottle of water. As I take it from him, my fingers brush against his, and the sensory memory of last night pulses through my body.
I lift the bottle up to my lips and watch how his gaze follows and lingers. He swallows, and I swallow. Our eyes meet.
I look away sharply, over at the fire pit, where the kindling is burning now and Pastor Joe gestures for Andy to give him one of the bigger logs. This is a mistake. I shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t encourage Neil’s interest in me, no matter how much I want to. He’s too good. And he deserves better.
“Maybe we should go help with the fire,” I mumble. My eyes are stinging, and I squeeze them shut to keep angry tears from escaping. It’s all so unfair. He probably thinks I’m like him, without a care in the world. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I feel Neil’s hand on my cheek as he turns my head back to face him. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
I look up at him and am overwhelmed by the concern shining in his eyes. All the feelings I’ve been pushing down for the past months well up inside me. A couple of hot tears trickle down my face, and my nose starts to itch.
Neil takes my hand, deliberately this time, not caring who sees, and leads me into the darkening forest. We pick through the underbrush slowly, side by side, and with each step I feel better. Stronger. Safer. Finally I stop. Neil stops too and faces me. Even though he’s only inches away, I can barely make out his outline. But I feel his warmth, hear his raspy breathing.
“Um, Neil, do you have a flashlight?” I whisper.
His breath tickles my ear. “A Boy Scout is always prepared.” He takes my other hand and guides it down to the lower pocket of his cargo pants. “In there.” His tone is innocent despite the bold gesture.
I’m a little taken aback, but I fumble around in his pocket and pull out a mini Maglite. I turn it on, and without letting go of Neil’s hand, I twirl in a circle so beams of light bounce off the surrounding trees.
“We should go,” I say. Then I turn the flashlight off and slip it back into Neil’s pocket.
I step closer to him, and recklessness takes over. I reach up and touch his lower lip lightly with my finger, and I close my eyes—
A siren blares. Glass shards cut my face. Intense pain hammers me everywhere at once. One, two, three beats, and then I jerk my hands out of the grooves. I’m back in my memory chamber, almost surprised to see I’m unharmed.
Something’s wrong. That’s not at all how the night ended.
Voices buzz all around me, an unusual sound. I sit up to look over the ledge to investigate. The other drones are all doing the same.
“Did you feel that?” Virginia calls out. A chorus of yeses responds, and everyone makes their way down from their memory chambers, to meet in the middle.
I head over to where Virginia stands, and Beckah joins us.
“What just happened?” Beckah asks, shaking. She has a haunted look on her face, a look I see echoed on all the other faces.
A girl named Amber is pointing at something behind me. “Omigod!” she shrieks, excited. “There’s a boy coming in through a door!”
Impossible. We haven’t seen any boys here. Ever. I spin around, and my mouth drops open. Because I know this boy. And he’s calling my name.
What People are Saying About This
“Absolutely gripping. My heart pounded on nearly every page. You won't be able to put it down.”
“A gripping debut! This utterly unique take on the afterlife poses fascinating questions . . . I can't wait to read the rest of the series to find out the answers!”
“Appelhans brings the afterlife to a whole new level. . . . A high-voltage thrill ride through love, death, and memory that will leave you breathless.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The book was awesome. It had me guessing all the way through the book. I thought Neil and Felicia would be a great couple but when she met Julian I thought they would be a perfect couple. But now I just can't wait until Level 3 comes out to see what happens with Felicia and Neil. So sad how Neil and Felicia died.
First Thoughts: I wasn't sure what to excpect from this book. I thought the blurb sounded really ineresting, so I was excited when I recieved a copy in the mail for review. And Then: Sad to say, this book let me down in alot of ways. I didn't like the how the author used the memory chambers as a way to learn about Felicia's life on earth. It was distracting. The book starts off in Level 2 where we meet Felicia, and learn that she has died and is living with other girls her age called "drones". They have some pretty great tech for this being the supposed afterlife, and at first this confused me, but there is some explanation for this later on in the book. So, the drones practically live in things called "memory chambers", and relive memories from their lives on earth. Almost like an addiction. They can even rent each other's memories with credit, and there is this whole rating system that reminded me of You Tube mixed with Goodreads, but for memories. Now, this is what really bothered me, everytime Felicia goes into a chamber, she relives a memory on earth. (Which she does A LOT) Now, I know this is supposed to let the reader get to know her as a character, but for me it was really just distracting. I would be really into what was happening in the present and BAM, now were reliving the time she went for lunch with her friend! I found myself skimming the parts where she was reliving her past memories, and just wanting more of the action going on in Level 2. Plus, the memories did not do what they were meant to. They did not endear me to Felicia, in fact, they did the opposite. I mean, some of it was just soo boring, not to mention making Felicia seem like such a selfish brat! I really didn't like any of the characters very much in this book. No, that's not true, I just didn't really care about them one way or the other. (Which is worse!) The book wasn't all bad though. The non-memory scenes were pretty cool and there were some cool twists at the end that surprised me. I really hate it when a book doesn't live up to my expectations, but Level 2 just wasn't for me. Maybe the reason I really wasn't too into it was because the "memories" felt alot like a contemporary novel, and that is one genre I don't really enjoy. I would have preferred less of that and more time spent learing about Level 2. I may still read the sequel, if only because I don't think the memory flashbacks will be part of the sequel. (At least I hope not...) Overview: I would reccomend this to anyone who enjoys YA contemporary with some paranormal/sci-fi mixed in. It's how I would classify this one, but that's just my opinion. I hope you will still give it Level 2 a shot if you have been looking forward to reading it. Not every book is for everyone, and this one just wasn't my cup of tea, but who knows, you may end up lovng it. Rating: 2/5 Stars
Well thankfully this book is finally over. I would have given it 2 stars, but well, the ending was a complete rush and rather horrible. What this book essentially is is The Matrix meets the afterlife. What make it even worse is that the book even points out that it is like The Matrix half way through! I was pretty much like "thanks for pointing out what I already decided a long time ago..." The characters were so ugh. And I got really sick of hearing how amazing Neil was. Also, all the "bad memories" were really poorly done. The connections between characters were poorly discovered. Really, this book has A LOT wrong with it. I am rather disappointed. You can find more of my reviews at: http://readingwithcupcakes.blogspot.com/
Boring, boring and did I mention, boring? Apparently there not much in the afterlife.......nothing that's exciting anyway. This book just does not speak to me at all. Could not get into it.
I have to say I was a bit skeptical of the premise for Level 2. I kept thinking, "Oh no, not another dead-girl-in-the-afterlife book." But Lenore does a good job of relating the afterlife to real life in terms of friendships, self-esteem, self-reflection, and love. Things aren't magically perfect in the afterlife. You don't suddenly have everything you want or need by your side. And you still have to learn from your past. I think these are great lessons for teens--no one gets to skip the hard stuff, whether on this side or the next. Add in a great twist ending, and you have a dead-girl-in-the-afterlife book that isn't formulaic. Looking forward to the release of the next Memory Chronicles book later this year!
I don't typically read YA books, or even dystopian/sci-fi, etc; but I found this book extremely interesting and very well written. I would highly recommend it!
Felicia's death has left her stuck in a sort of limbo. As one of the residents of her hive she has friends and she has access to her memories from her life before. Those memories, happy and sad, set the stage for the larger conflict in the afterlife. That's the beauty of the story you see, it's not easy to discern what is really what. It's not confusing, mind you, but an action-filled and fast paced story filled with unexpected moments. A kudo to Appelhans for giving those surprises as it's a rare book that I can't predict the larger plot points. Level 2 isn't all about the plot though, there's compelling characters too. Felicia is conflicted in a variety of ways (that I won't spoil you on here) so her strength and determination really shines through. She's flawed but in a way that makes her relatable and ultimately a person to root for. Then there are the two boys in her life (yes I said two!) Julian and Neil, who are equally interesting. Before you get your panties in a bunch this isn't your exhaustive love triangle scenario. In fact it's not even really a love triangle which I appreciated. You all know I'm not a fan of grey, I like to know what is going on and I like things straight-forward. What Appelhans has done so well is given me the ability to love all of her characters despite the fact that they are not painted so rigidly. We are lead to believe some are good and some are bad but that is ALWAYS in question. There is a sweet romance too -- for what it's worth, I'm Team Julian at the moment. If you're a fan of Lauren Oliver's Delirium series Level 2 is going to be right up your alley. Well written, well characterized and well plotted. A win to be sure! * note, I beta read this book and the author is a close personal friend.
Bought this bc I couldn't put down the book and it was easier to by a nook version for my phone than use my phone as a flashlight :) Loved the story, and it ends in a way where there is definitely room for more! can't wait for another book!
I think I had this built up in my head as what might be the perfect book. It's written by a fellow blogger who knows what the constant complaints are in young adult books. My expectations were high, but I forgot the most important rule. Not everyone can like it. I struggled with my thoughts while reading it, for a few days after, and now while writing this review. It's still a good book. I just wasn't blow away by it. And I really wanted to be. I think what I liked most about this book is our lead character Felicia. She's lead a very interesting life as the daughter of a US diplomat. She's smart, friendly, and has traveled the world over. When we meet her she's already dead and we learn about her life through the memories she accesses in the pods of Level 2. It was intense watching her life spiral out of control. As we learn what really happened before she died, it's not wonder why she doesn't trust Julian when he shows up to rescue her from her mundane afterlife on Level 2. I really enjoyed the flashbacks (or memories I guess) in this story. But, I just did not get into the storyline that revolved around Level 2. I came to concluded it was a sort of purgatory level. People are forced to relieve their lives over and over, but nobody moves on. I just didn't get this world of whitewashed room after room with nobody understanding what was really going on. What the purpose was of having the people trapped in this level on how it got back at God. Was Felicia the only one with the power to overthrow what the Morati was doing? What made her so special, because she could remember and function longer before she had to plug in? It was a fascinating concept that I really wanted to like. I felt like I should like it. But in the end, the book just didn't do it for me. I think many will enjoy this though! I might give the squeal a try.