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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
The Shop Before Life by Neil Hughes is an entertaining, original, and delightful story. The Prelife was relatively simple and for centuries Faythe has lived a comfortable life with her two closest friends. But now Faythe is considering moving on from the Prelife so she can go to earth. Everything changes when she gets a job at the Shop Before Life as the new Apprentice where she will help people go to earth after picking out the traits they want to take with them. Her decision doesn’t quite go as she planned: her closest friend is mad at her, she knocks over a shelf when she arrives, the Shopkeeper doesn’t seem to want her around, and on her first day she accidentally talks a customer out of going to earth. Then she learns about a mysterious former Apprentice, and no one wants to answer her questions, so she decides to dig further into the traits on her own but if she gets caught she could land in trouble that she won’t be able to get out of.
Neil Hughes delivers a unique story that doesn’t take place during life or even the afterlife but instead takes place primarily in the Prelife, the life that comes before you’re born on earth. The premise is creative and original, immediately capturing reader attention with the charming character of Faythe who is feeling the need for a change in her life. Faythe is a relatively carefree person that plays pranks, has a blunt way about her that gets her into trouble, and a delightful voice that makes The Shop Before Life fun to read. Hughes has a playfulness throughout the tone of the story with light humor that often includes jokes. Time is meaningless with fifteen years feeling like just the other day and centuries going by as if it’s only been a week, which helps give an endless quality to the Prelife’s existence.
The Shop is shrouded in mystery and secrecy which pushes Faythe to look into every mystery the Shopkeeper is hiding. The mystery elements revolve around the identity of the former Apprentice, the purpose of the Supplier, where the traits come from and how they work when people take them to the other side, who Management is, and a shocking secret that changes everything in the Prelife. Each of these questions is answered the further Faythe digs into the shop with surprising twists and stunning revelations along the way. Woven throughout is a philosophical overview of life on earth which is dispersed around Faythe’s discoveries behind the Shop. Original, delightful, and humorous, The Shop Before Life is a breath of fresh air as Hughes brings to life a unique story that is captivating, enjoyable, quirky, and fun.