Jaq Hazell’s My Life as a Bench is a clever little book about a seventeen year old girl named Ren who died before we even open the cover. We met her on the day her memorial bench is placed for friends and family to visit and for strangers to rest as they jog along the river. To her eternal irritation, her father had her full name Lauren inscribed rather than the name she went by, Ren.
Luckily she is not alone, the next bench along the path is occupied by Lionel whose been there for twenty-two years, making him either seventy-six or ninety-eight years old, depending on if you keep counting after death.
Through the course of the story we come to learn how Ren came to benched, if you’ll pardon the pun. We also discover that the boy she loved is wrongly accused of killing her, so she is desperately trying to connect with people to tell them he is innocent, but most people are not receptive to her and those who can hear her are frightened or unsuitable.
I give Hazell credit for coming up with an original concept and running with it. I admire her for following through with the thought experiment, the dogs peeing on the bench, the frightened children, the destruction of vandalism, the lonely nights of benchdom….this is genius.
So it disappoints me that they plot is so mundane and that the person responsible for her death is such a tired trope. If Hazell had applied half as much imagination to the romance and death arc as she did exploring life as a bench, this could have been a great book. Instead, it is a fun concept paired with an irritating, stereotypical trope. It’s doubly irritating that Hazell waffles on the motive, alternatively implying the Lunatic (as Ren called her killer) was in love with Ren and with someone who loved Ren. It doesn’t really matter, both tropes are tired.
My Life as a Bench will be released May 2nd. I was provided an e-galley by the publisher through NetGalley.