Soul Beach by Kate Harrison, published by Indigo on 1st September 2011
When Alice Forster receives an email from her dead sister she assumes it must be a sick practical joke. Then an invitation arrives to the virtual world of Soul Beach, an idyllic online paradise of sun, sea and sand where Alice can finally talk to her sister again - and discover a new world of friendships, secrets and maybe even love . . . . But why is Soul Beach only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead? Who really murdered Megan Forster? And could Alice be next?
Having previously read and enjoyed Kate Harrison's Secret Shopper series, I was incredibly excited to find out that she had written her debut YA novel, being published under new publishing umbrella Indigo. Kate Harrison seems to have a real talent for weaving mesmerising and enjoyable stories with wonderfully written characters and 'Soul Beach' was no exception. When I'm reading thrillers, the one thing I expect is to be sucked into the story and to have to read just one more chapter and then one more because it's so good that I can't put it down. I wasn't disappointed because 'Soul Beach' delivered exactly that.
The story is centered around teenager Alice, whose sister Megan was murdered. The police haven't yet been able to track down her killer. Alice's whole life has been turned upside down since her sister's death. Her parents are each coping with the event in their own way and Alice is still grieving for the big sister that she admired and looked up to. When she receives an invitation to Soul Beach from her dead sister she discovers a virtual world unlike any other and her own life begins to pale in comparison.
I loved the whole concept of a cyber or virtual world full of the souls of the dead. Soul Beach is like the limbo between heaven and hell and the souls there are unable to move on because their deaths are either unresolved or something in their previous lives has been left incomplete. There's irony in the fact that this is depicted as being somewhat of a paradise island or an idyllic place where the sun always shines and the sea is always blue and yet underneath the surface it's far from this. Alice starts to become more and more obsessed with spending time there with her sister and with the other people she meets, including cute and kind Danny, who she begins to develop romantic feelings for and Triti, another teenage girl who sets Alice on the path to discovering a secret about Soul Beach itself.
The story is well plotted and interspersed throughout are small fragments of the thoughts of the person that killed Megan. I have my suspicions about who it might be but at the end of the book we're still left guessing, which is incredibly frustrating as I'm dying to know! However, the secret of a good murder mystery is to always leave the reader in suspense throughout and that's definitely the case here.
Kate Harrison has bridged the gap between the adult and YA genres perfectly with a fascinating exploration of life after death. There's romance, mystery and plenty of thrills along the way in this brilliant book which will draw you in and then leave you wanting more!