Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New York Ghost Story Disappoints This Reader

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I love me a good ghost story, even in January, when Halloween has long since faded away. Maybe it's because October in Arizona still feels like July; January's nice and crisp, like October in states with normal weather. Whatever the reason, I plucked The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh out of my ginormous box of books from Disney Publishing (Thanks again, Hallie!) with great anticipation. I loved the premise behind the story - a boy discovers New York's Underworld, a kind of purgatory for the dead - and was anxious to see what Marsh did with it. Unfortunately, she didn't do quite enough to satisfy this reader.

This YA novel concerns one Jack Perdu, a ninth grader who would rather translate Ovid than play video games or chase girls. He lives with his father, a college professor who still grieves for Jack's mother, who died 8 years ago in a freak scaffolding accident. A loner, Jack spends most of his time with his nose buried in a book, a habit that leads to an accident of his own - he nearly loses his life when a car slams into him. Although he makes it out alive, Jack's not sure he's completely back to normal. After all, he's seeing and hearing some very strange things. A concerned Professor Perdu sends Jack to New York for a consultation with an old doctor friend.

Things get even stranger when Jack arrives in the city. Dr. Lyons turns out to be a weird old quack, who doesn't even bother with an exam. Then, while waiting for his train home, Jack discovers an odd girl named Euri, who tempts him into some "urban exploration." It doesn't take him long to realize there's something very wrong with his new friend. By that time, it's too late - he's trapped in New York's murky Underworld. Not surprisingly, Euri's one of its resident ghosts. Although Jack's not real keen on hanging out underground, he has one very good reason to stay - since his mother died in New York, she's likely to be hanging around the Underworld somewhere. He will give anything to find her.

Being alive in the Underworld does have its drawbacks - namely, Cerebus, a slobbering 3-headed dog on the hunt for living invaders. Armed with his father's map, Jack and Euri set out on a quest to find Anastasia Perdu, but the search turns up more questions than answers. Why is there an asterik next to her name in the record books? If her death was accidental, why the strange notation? With the help of Euri and some rather famous ghosts - Ruthven Todd, Dylan Thomas and Alan Ginsberg, to name a few - Jack will discover some startling truths about his mother. He'll also get a few shocks from Euri, who's not exactly what she seems. Jack's quest will also give him answers to his most probing questions - who is he? And what have his parents been hiding from him?

Jack's adventures make for a quick, action-packed read, but so much of the plot just didn't come together for me. I also didn't feel much of a connection to the main characters, although I found many of the minors - especially the dead poets - utterly charming. As I said before, I love the premise behind this book, I just wanted a more cohesive storyline, fuller characters, and more satisfying explanations for all the mysteries of the Underworld. Despite its flaws, the story did keep my attention. The ending was not exactly what I was expecting, so I found it a bit of a letdown. I really, really wanted to like this story, but it just didn't quite do it for me. I'm debating whether I should pick up the sequel or not - I'd say there's only a ghost of a chance.

Grade: C

Note: Although I designated this a clean read, it does contain mild profanity, which amounts to a few hells and damns sprinkled throughout the book.

2 comments:

  1. Susan: You may want to look for my new, and only book- MY WHOLE LIFE AND 48 YEARS OF SMALL TOWN FAMILY MEDICAL PRACTICE. It is in publicaton now and I'm told in 4 to6 weeks will be out. I'm 85, still sane after busy,sad,happy,humerous,6 kids,tragic death of one,contented marriage to an alcoholic wife,treated,cured. Two chapters of southern colloquialism patient quotations about health and ills, and anatomy."Doc, you got to give me something to make me quit dancin' when I pee." Paul T.

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