The Fetch is one of those rare books that took me completely by surprise. An inspired combination of history, religion and the supernatural, Laura Whitcomb’s unique if sometimes ponderously paced second novel pushes at the boundaries of teen literature, nudging the field in a startling new direction. Calder was nineteen years old when he died and became a Fetch, one of the few souls chosen to escort the newly dead into Heaven. Always dutiful, he has never wavered from his task even though he is nagged by feelings of insecurity and doubt as to why he was called to such a sacred post. But when he sees a beautiful woman with red-gold hair nursing her ill child, he falls instantly in love and is for the first time ever compelled to go back into the land of living in order to be with her. What he does not discover until later is that the woman is Alexandra Romanov and her sickly child Alexis Romanov, heir to the Russian throne. Once he realizes that there is no way he can take the woman from her husband and family, it is too late. Calder is stuck on the earthly plane, trapped in the bearish body of none other than the infamous Rasputin, the “mad monk” and questionable spiritual adviser to the Romanovs. Meanwhile, Rasputin’s soul is running amuck in the Land of Lost Souls, raising a spirit army who see Calder as their enemy and are determined to keep him from Heaven. Those familiar with history know that the Imperial Family comes to a tragic end during the Russian Revolution. Calder as Rasputin is able to save two of the Romanov children, Anastasia and Alexis, although they are stuck in a limbo between life and death. Now he must embark upon an impossible quest to deliver the children to Heaven and find his way back to the Fetchkind. Reading this book is like being lost in a fevered dream. Calder’s quest is hazy and exhausting, plagued with flashbacks from his past human life and avenging demons from this one. Years can pass in few paragraphs, while some legs of the journey take pages. Like Ana and Alexis, some of you will simply want to put your head down and go to sleep after several promising leads turn out to be dead ends. This densely written tome, loaded with literary and religious symbolism, is not for all of my teen reader peeps. But for those who savor a challenge and stick with Calder to the end, a paradise awaits. Whitcomb’s gorgeous descriptions of the afterlife are comforting and original, and my heart lifted as almost never before when I read the final few pages. Pacing aside, this strange bird of a novel is quite a start to the 2009 year in YA lit.