Heck: Where The Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye
by Dale E. Basye
Where do the bad kids go? If a really rotten kid dies, do they go to a) heaven, b) hell, or c) somewhere else? If you answered c, then maybe you’ve been reading the kids book Heck: Where The Bad Kids Go. Welcome to Heck. It’s not quite hell, but it isn’t a pleasant place to be either. Heck is where underage sinners go to be rehabilitated or punished for all eternity – or until they turn 18. Heck is not a place you want to spend any time. Are you in danger of spending time in Heck?
Marlo is a young teenage goth girl kleptomaniac with a tendency to get not only into trouble but full blown mayhem. Her younger brother Milton is a bookworm who is a good kid constantly being picked on by the local bully. When these two siblings die in a giant marshmallow bear related explosion, they find that this is the first day of their afterlife. No halos and harps for these two, they’re going to Heck, a perverse, limbo-like school for naughty kids. Demons and condemned souls make sure that no one is having any fun. But why is Milton here? He is (or was) a good kid. Something not quite right is going on in Heck. But Milton and Marlo don’t plan on sticking around long enough to find out what that is.
Heck is the first in a planned nine part series. Which doesn’t come as much of a surprise really. It seems that all kids books these days have to be part of a series. And considering this book takes it’s main idea from Dante’s nine circles of hell, it makes a fair bit of sense.
The other-worldly land of Heck is an interesting place. In my mind it seems like the kind of place that would exist if Robert Rodriguez and Tim Burton got together to design the afterlife. Little demons running around with spork shaped pitchforks. Grotesque demons running around in oversized demon mascot costumes designed to make them look comical and cute. A cafeteria where all the good food is booby-trapped. Coffin shaped cribs for naughty babies. There’s a lot here to spark vivid imagery in the mind of the reader.
A problem I had with this book as children’s literature are the pop culture references. I’m 30 years old with a good grasp on pop culture. Even I struggled with some of the references. What 10-year-old is going to know who Richard Nixon is, let alone why it is ironic that he’s teaching a class on ethics? Are they going to get the pun when Milton posts a sign in the cafeteria reading “Milton’s Pair of Dice: Lost”? Even I took a few goes to work that one out. And the Pink Floyd reference? I thought that reference was too old even for me.
The bigger problem with Heck is the consistency of Heck. It’s meant to be a place of punishment. It’s meant to be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. But it seems that only Milton, Marlo, and their new friend Virgil are the only ones suffering. All the other kids seem to be having a grand old time. They’ve continued their bullying ways into the next life. They don’t appear to be suffering at all. Damian, Milton’s #1 bully finds his way into Heck and is treated as a superstar. There doesn’t appear to be any logic or justice to Heck. That may end up being the point, but I thought it stuck out pretty badly.
Does Heck exist? Is there an afterlife just for kids? Is there an option other than heaven or hell? According to the principal of Heck, Bea “Elsa” Bub, the reason Heck exists is because “young souls aren’t fully accountable for what they have done – yet.” So they are sent to a limbo like place to sort them out. The determining factor in where they go is the measurement of their soul. If they have done more bad things than good things, they end up in Heck, rather than some more pleasant location.
There’s some major issues here. Firstly, are kids accountable for their sin? Milton and Marlo are certainly old enough to know better. They can tell right from wrong. Should they be let off the hook just because they’re not 18 yet? If you’re old enough to know you’ve done the wrong thing, you’re definitely old enough to be held accountable for your sin. If you’re underage, you’ll still have to stand before God and give an account for all the times you’ve done stuff you weren’t supposed to and not done stuff you were supposed to.
Second, is there a third option? Is there more to the afterlife than heaven and hell? Jesus didn’t think so (and considering he’s God, he’d have a pretty good idea). Jesus said “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36) If you believe in Jesus, you’re going to heaven. If you reject Jesus, you’re going to hell. There’s no other option. There’s only two possible ways to go. The whole idea of Limbo or Purgatory or Heck just isn’t consistent with the Bible. And neither is the way Milton and Marlo are allocated to Heck. It’s not about how many good versus bad things you’ve done. Because at the end of the day, we all deserve hell. Our sin is too great. It’s only through believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus can you get into heaven.
I’m interested in seeing where this series goes. There’s some great imagery here and some fun ideas, but at the end of the day there are some significant problems with Heck that stop it from being as good as it could be.