Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Level 2
Lenore Appelhans

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Reader
Released January 15, 2013
288 pages

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Three levels. Two loves. One choice. Debut novelist, Lenore Appelhans has written a thrilling otherworldly young adult novel about a place that exists between our world (Level 1) and what comes after life (Level 2).

'I pause to look around the hive - all the podlike chambers are lit up as the drones shoot up on memories ... I've wanted to get out of here before, but now the tight quarters start to choke me. There has to be more to death than this.'

Felicia Ward is dead. Trapped in a stark white afterlife limbo, she spends endless days replaying memories, of her family, friends, boyfriend ... and of the guy who broke her heart. The guy who has just broken into Level 2 to find her.

Felicia learns that a rebellion is brewing, and it seems she is the key. Suspended between heaven and earth, she must make a choice. Between two worlds, two lives and two loves.

Lenore Appelhans’ Level 2 is nothing like I’ve ever read before and it left me uneasy, but somehow in a good way. That doesn’t make much sense, I know, but Level 2 is a haunting read with a touch of adventure and a lot of melancholy. Appelhans imbues the entire book with loss while still somehow creating a book that isn’t depressing.

Level 2 starts with lead character Felicia waking in a blindingly white hive of memory pods, where teenage girls spend their afterlife reliving their and others memories over and over again. She’s been stuck here for what feels like an eternity after dying in a car wreck. From the start there are numerous hints that something very bad happened during Felicia’s life and that she believes she’s suffering penance for her mistakes. She relives memories of Neil, the godly choir boy who she felt redeemed her, while trying to avoid memories of Julian, the attractive stranger that came between her and her best friend before disappearing into nothingness. So when Julian shows up in Felicia’s hive, things get pretty messed up, pretty quickly.

Felicia is a difficult character to relate to because she was so fraught with regret and self-blame. Through the flashbacks she re-experiences, her background slowly unfolds until the end finally puts all the pieces together. While the flashbacks were incorporated into the story so as to not slow down the pacing, the order in which they were told distracted me from the main story. References to the awful things Felicia did are regularly mentioned, but it’s not until the very end that these “awful things” are revealed and it didn’t exactly feel like it fit.

Julian, the bad boy who Felicia blames for destroying her life, shows up on her hive to break her out of this purgatory and leading her to other people stuck in Level 2, but broken away from the hives. These characters are really only there to provide attitude and exposition, conveniently disappearing when their goal has been accomplished. Julian provides the color and the real mystery to the story, though the explanation behind his mysteriousness seemed pretty obvious.

It sounds like I hated this book, but I didn’t. This is a fun, quick read with some solid moments of suspense and some sweet moments of teen romance. Appelhans writing is kinetic at times, making it difficult to put the book down. The setting is fantastic and inventive, unlike anything I’ve read before and it’s very difficult to find something that truly feels unique. There just were a few things that seem stuck in to set up a sequel or to force the ending that Appelhans wanted.  

Level 2 is an effective book that takes an interesting spin on the afterlife, guilt and the impulsive mistakes of teenagers. Appelhans writing is exciting and keeps the reader engaged, tied to the tale until the end even when moments or characters seem a little out of place. The climax of the story doesn’t lack impact, just that it felt like there should be more to justify the ensuing events. But Level 2 ends in a completely different place, emotionally and quite literally, and sets up an interesting scene for the sequel. It shows the promise of this debut author and I look forward to seeing where Appelhans goes next.


I received an advanced copy of this book through the Debut Author ARC Tour in return for an honest review.