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Reviewed by Dinorah Blackman for Readers' Favorite
In his ingenious novel My Vacation in Hell, Gene Twaronite explores what hell would be like from the perspective of a young unpopular boy. In hell, John and his friend Virgil face a number of adventurous, even comical situations as they come face to face with the concept of eternal punishment. With all watches and clocks stuck at 2:55, only five minutes before summer vacation begins, the boys risk missing out on their break as they delve deeper and deeper into the bottomless pit. For what seems like an eternity, they face temptations of many kinds that threaten to enslave them. But Virgil, who happens to have written the handbook, turns out to be a somewhat reliable guide. Virgil helps John over the difficult patches as they travel through the levels of hell and the categories of evil and punishment. There's horrible music by the world’s worst musicians being played in a loop, putrid smells, nauseating slime they must wade through, and rabid mobs or hideous beasts chasing them. But the boys manage to escape each threatening situation. As they progress through hell, painful memories resurface and new friendships are formed.
Without a doubt, My Vacation in Hell is an unusual story. Gene Twaronite has such a vivid imagination that the reader can’t help but become absorbed in his imagery. The way in which he describes each adventure makes you wonder if he might be on to something and if his version of hell might just be correct. Twaronite subtly integrates general religious teachings in his tale and allows no doubt that evil is punished. The relationship between John and Virgil is believable, as most of us have had one such friend. Beth, on whom John seems to have a huge crush, is introduced gently as some sort of guardian or protector. In the end, the reader needs to draw his or her own conclusions; did this journey really take place or was John simply daydreaming in class again?