[Hayasaki] skillfully weaves together difficult stories, finding unexpected connections….The book’s strength lies in the well-observed details of the lives portrayed, and in the recognition that the work Bowe and her students are doing is messy, necessary stuff. Hayasaki acknowledges this by bookending chapters with writing prompts from Bowe’s syllabus—‘Be a Ghost’—as if to encourage readers to consider the big questions on their own.
— The New York Times
At its heart, this book spotlights a bumpy but certain road to resurrection and imparts its wisdom as it traverses a drama-filled landscape, one pocked with suicides and cold-blooded murder, abuse and addiction…‘The Death Class’ manages to glide gracefully and delicately through the parts — say, the autopsy table — where you’re sure you’ll retch, if you can even keep your eyes on the page. And for sticking with it, you’re rewarded with poetic passages and assorted revelations you’ll likely not forget….Hayasaki, through Bowe, drums in the essential lessons of how by finding purpose beyond ourselves, we infuse our lives with meaning and lessen our fear of death.
— The Chicago Tribune
By chronicling the stories of Bowe and four of her students, Hayasaki imbues the austere topic of death with tangible narrative immediacy. It’s a book of powerful scenes.
— The Boston Globe
Readers will come away struck by Bowe’s compassion — and by the unexpectedly life-affirming messages of courage that spring from her students’ harrowing experiences.
— Entertainment Weekly
This is a beautiful book about courage—the courage to turn and face your own life and death, and the courage to make a difference in the lives of others. The Death Class points to a way of living fully, gratefully, and meaningfully every day.
— Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open and cofounder of the Omega Institute
Hayasaki has a reporter’s way of winnowing out the facts, the interesting stuff, small details, and tiny secrets that make us want to know more. She immerses us so well into the story of the class, students, and the professor that it’s almost easy to forget we’re reading. We become part of what’s happening, complete with triumphs, gasps, and life-affirming inspiration.
— The Times Weekly
The Death Class is at once puncturing and redemptive, sharing humanity’s most painful, violent face while at the same time revealing a fierce optimism and stunning generosity.
— Erica Brown, author of Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death
Hayasaki offers a completely engaging look at death and the meaning of life.
— Vanessa Bush, Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)
...the last lesson you’d ever need on life.
— Ruth Davis Konigsberg, author of The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss
At the end of every chapter, Hayasaki includes an assignment from Bowe’s syllabus—e.g., write your own eulogy, pretend you are a ghost and record your observations, write a goodbye letter to someone or something lost. These assignments invite readers to consider the essential question of Bowe’s course—and Hayasaki’s book: How can we learn to celebrate life?
— Kirkus Reviews
Norma Bowe “not only teaches her students about the physiology of death, its implications for all areas of life and thought; she rescues them from it. She answers calls in the middle of the night, and she answers the call to help humanity whence it comes, near or far. She is friend, counselor, aid worker, and revolutionary in the person of one woman, one “who delighted in cemeteries, the overlooked classrooms beneath our feet.” Her subject, the end, is always just beginning.
— Barnes & Noble reviews


When nurse and professor Norma Bowe decided to teach a course on death at a college in New Jersey, she never expected it to be popular. But year after year, students crowd into her classroom and the reason why is clear: Norma's "death class" is really about how to make the most of what poet Mary Oliver famously called our "one wild and precious life." 

Under the guise of discussions about last wills and last breaths and visits to cemeteries and crematoriums, Norma teaches her students to find grace in one another.

By following her over three years, award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki shows how Norma steers a group of extraordinary students from their tormented families and neighborhoods toward happiness: she rescues one young woman from her suicidal mother, helps a young man manage his schizophrenic brother, and inspires another to leave his gang life behind. Through this unorthodox class on death, Norma helps kids who are barely hanging on to understand not only the value of their own lives, but also the secret of fulfillment: to throw yourself into helping others.

Hayasaki's expert reporting and literary prose bring Norma's wisdom out of the classroom, transforming it into an inspiring lesson for all. In the end, Norma's very own life — and how she lives it — is the lecture that sticks.


Erika Hayasaki is an associate professor in the literary journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. A former Los Angeles Times national correspondent, her feature stories and essays have also appeared in Wired, NewsweekThe Atlantic, Pacific StandardThe Wall Street JournalTime, The California Sunday Magazine, Glamour, and Foreign PolicyShe is the author of two bestselling Amazon Kindle Singles, Dead or Alive (2012), and Drowned by Corn (2014). Erika is a recipient of the Los Angeles Times Best Writing Award, the Association of Sunday Feature Editors Award, The Society for Features Journalism Narrative Award, the American Society of Newspaper Editors Breaking News Award, and is a two-time finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Her Wired profile of a woman with no episodic memory was featured Longform's Best of Science writing 2016.