The Next Thing I Knew
In one fell swoop, humanity is wiped out. Fortunately it's not quite the end. Lucy and her neighbors wake up in an alternate universe they call Heavenly, where they never get sick, tired, or hurt. As they explore their new world, Lucy finds that the afterlife has the same problem as her old life, plus one other one - she stumbles across a spaceship headed for Earth. The aliens threaten Lucy's post-life existence, and she must figure out a way to stop their enemies from destroying all that's left of the human race before it's too late...
The idea of having everyone on Earth become ghosts was definitely original in my experience. I like a little scifi every once in a while, so a plot of having aliens trying to colonize the Earth was one I could get on board with. (Literarily. Literally I would definitely have a problem with that.)
The pacing was a little odd at times. The first third or so of the book was dedicated to the exploration of Heavenly and the rules of being a ghost, which was interesting for a while but eventually got a little slow. The things suddenly picked up a lot when the aliens arrived, and certain cooperation problems were solved with a speed that left me incredulous. I was also a little irritated that Lucy didn't seem to see a certain betrayal coming despite hints the size of an interstellar billboard.
There were a couple elements of this story that seemed totally disconnected from the main plotline. First, Lucy and Chris's romance bothered me for a lot of reasons that definitely were not resolved by the end of the book. (A "let's get it over with" attitude toward sex is not romantic at all and frankly a little disturbing.) I think this relationship could have been eliminated completely without affecting the plot in the least. Last living human Nick's appearances were a little more integrated into the story but still seemed a little random, and I was surprised that he wasn't involved in the climax of the story. I wish, though, that Nick had been the love interest in this book rather than Chris, which I think would have made a much better story.
I didn't get much of a sense of personality from Lucy for the first half of this book. Maybe this was a YA issue, but she just didn't seem to have any kind of goals or interests or anything. Eventually she did improve to the point where I found her mostly credible as a leader.
I also have a caveat for any religious readers: The Next Thing I Knew is quite explicitly anti-religious, which might bother you if you are not. (It bothered me a little, and I don't consider myself religious. I just don't like preachiness. Which is actually why I don't consider myself religious. Go figure.)
Overall, the story was pretty decent. Check it out if you like YA scifi or if you're looking for something a little different.
Plot: 2 cupcakes
Characters: 2 cupcakes
Style: 3 cupcakes
Overall: 3 cupcakes
If you liked The Next Thing I Knew, try:
Acorna by Anne McCaffrey
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Valor's Choice by Tanya Huff