- Always be trying to read one more book than I have already read this year.
Read whatever feels good to read and will make me want to keep reading.
More on the rationale behind these rules later.
Bruno and his brother Sylvio are the new kids at Suburban High this year, but they quickly make friends with the remaining members of The Rosary, a clique steeped in elegant, dark music and culture. Sylvio has always had those interests, but Bruno finds himself suddenly drawn to them – perhaps because of his powerful attraction to Celia, the protagonist from The Suburban Strange. Through his connection with Celia and his interactions with the school librarian, Bruno discovers that his intuitive understanding of maps has a supernatural source. He has to use these skills and his new understanding of the supernatural realm of the Kind and Unkind to help him solve two mysteries: why students around school are receiving “kiss notes” from a ghost and then discovering loved ones betraying them, and why kids all over the school are suddenly finding themselves deeply depressed.
My relationship with the author:
You should know that I can’t be unbiased about this book. Nathan Kotecki is my friend (see more about how we met in my review of The Suburban Strange). I’m listed in the acknowledgments. So if you’re looking for an unbiased review, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the honest perspective of the friend of the author who’s also a former high school teacher and school librarian, well, you’ve come to the right place.
What I love:
- The supernatural stuff starts right away with Bruno mysteriously finding himself in the Ebentwine, a liminal space with a definite Wonderland vibe.
- The references to dark music and culture flow fast and free, just like in The Suburban Strange. But this time, I didn’t find myself wishing I’d had goth friends to shepherd me around, probably because I got that out of the way in the first book.
- There sure is a lot of time spent in the school library hanging out with the school librarian, who is so much more pleasant than adults in YA literature often are.
- Bruno has a geography teacher who won’t let him coast, but gives him the opportunity to work on an individualized project that also helps him expand his supernatural skills.
- Marco. Marco Marco Marco. He’s a featured player in this book, and I love him, and it makes me so happy.
- Everybody, Bruno included, seems to love Celia in a way that makes her dangerously close to a Mary Sue, but there is an actual explanation for why everyone loves her so much.
- Bruno and Sylvio have a very positive relationship. I love siblings who get along most of the time. Of course they don’t get along all the time, but they never seem to deliberately annoy each other or snipe at each other.
- All the little ways in which you know this book comes from the same world as The Suburban Strange, but it really is its own story.
- Bruno and Sylvio’s dad, who is a minister, but understands that his sons need to explore faith at their own pace.
- The whole mythology of this world. There are Kind and Unkind, talented people who have the opportunity to use their supernatural gifts for good or ill. And these aren’t things like super strength or throwing fireballs, but things like literally traveling through the pages of a book, or being able to shape reality through drawing it.
How my wish from last time got fulfilled:
- I said I wanted to see more menace in the school setting, and boy did Pull Down the Night deliver. This is the eeriest school library since they built Sunnydale High on top of a hellmouth. (We put that in lowercase, since we know there’s more than one of them.)
What I need to warn you about:
- While this book is much quicker-paced than The Suburban Strange, it’s still not an action/suspense thriller. So if you’re looking for that, maybe pick up a different book, and give this to your goth friend.
- You’re going to want to find all of the music that goes with this book. But you don’t have to, because Nathan made a Spotify playlist. I highly recommend listening to the playlist while reading the book, if you’re the kind of person who can have music going while you read.
A friend from high school recently connected me with the mermaiding community, where I learned about Raina the Halifax Mermaid’s book, “Fishy” Business: How to Be a Mermaid. Raina includes a list of recommended mermaid fiction, but even more useful, she provides the URL for this Goodreads list of the Best Mermaid Books.
As I’ve watched my former school library and classroom teacher colleagues chat about their summer plans on Facebook, I’ve occasionally had a twinge of longing for the times before I was a twelve-month university employee. That said, I wouldn’t trade my excellent job and full-time employment for anything, so I’m looking for ways to capture the feel of a summer vacation that match my current schedule. I think reading a giant stack of mermaid books (especially on my upcoming beach vacation) is a great way to get the job done.
So stay tuned for reports on mermaid reads. What are you going to read this summer?
Celia Balaustine is entering her sophomore year of high school, but it’s her first year at Suburban High. She’s all set to spend the year trying to be as invisible as possible, with only her sketchbook for a friend, when fellow artist Regine takes her under her wing and introduces her to a clique called The Rosary. The members of The Rosary are interested in dark alternative culture, including literature, fashion, and music. They pride themselves on being different from the other kids in their school. But as different as her friends are from the rest of their classmates, Celia can’t help but be drawn into the school’s drama as young girls begin to be gravely injured on the eve of their sixteenth birthday. She wants to stop these incidents from happening, as well as protect herself from becoming the curse’s next victim. But can she?
My relationship with the author:
Before I jump into telling you what I loved about this book (and there’s a lot), I need to tell you how it came to my attention. My former supervisor Emily (whose old job I now hold) contacted me and told me that her friend was having his first book released soon and would love to get a big name to be present at his book release party, and she knew I had connections in the YA lit world and thought I might have some suggestions. After some back and forth, Emily and Nathan and I sat down for lunch so he could pick my brain for my expertise as both a kidlit blogger and a school librarian (by training if not position). Over the course of the conversation it came out that we are both seekrit goths, me coming at it more from the fashion angle and him from music, with both of us crossing over into the other interest some. I confessed my lack of education on the music part of things, and he assured me that he could fix that. So, yes, I do have mix CDs that serve as, essentially the soundtrack for this book. Yes, the author treated me to lunch since I am helping him with publicity. Yes, I felt like it would be good if I liked this book.
So know all of that, because I don’t want to deceive you about my relationship with this book.
What I loved:
- Celia’s friends in The Rosary are darkly glamorous. They discuss music, art, and literature in ways that some reviews have suggested aren’t realistic for teenagers, but as a former high school teacher, I found this eminently believable. Kids are into all sorts of things, and some of them are beautifully pretentious. Mostly they grow into pretentious but self-aware adults, the kind of people I like to spend time with.
- This book has a gay couple in the most stable relationship in the whole book. And it’s not a huge deal. They’re just a couple, who both happen to be guys. And they’re probably two of the most fully-realized characters in a book full of interesting people. They’re my favorites.
- The curse has a component whereby girls who are virgins seem to be the only targets. This leads to a lot of frank but not vulgar discussions of sex, its importance, when you should do it and who you should do it with. I think books that model this kind of conversation are far preferable to those that ignore it or make it all gross.
- The members of The Rosary are immensely studious. Yes, they do party at Diaboliques (described in Colleen’s review as a fairytale goth club and I can’t put it better than that) until three in the morning, but they also encourage Celia to do her homework as soon as she gets home from school.
- There’s a romance in here that is a slow burn, which is exactly my kind of thing (both in my own love life and the stories I like to read). There won’t be any flailing and crying, “I love you, but also I want you to be my dinner!” here – the obstacles to romance are external reactions to internal circumstances and I kind of love that.
- The decadence of description of the clothes, atmosphere, music, and Celia’s emotions. I spent a good chunk of this book being a little sad that I didn’t have a tightly-knit group of goth friends to shepherd me through school. (I had a tightly-knit group of diversely-interested friends who were wonderful, but I was one of only two of us you could categorize as goth, and not at all aware of it as a genuine subculture rather than just a cruel label folks gave spooky kids.)
- The quiet menace of the supernatural. You know the whole time that supernatural stuff is going on, but it’s not the focus until far into the book.
- The subtle way in which this fits the mold of a classic Gothic novel, going as far back as The Castle of Otranto and Jane Eyre and as recent as Rebecca or even The Thirteenth Tale.
What I’d like to see more of:
- The school setting as a menace itself. This is definitely present here, but I have hopes that it will be even more present in future books in the series. I was lucky enough to hear Nathan speak to a young adult literature class at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science (my alma mater!) and he mentioned that the school itself would serve as a unifying thread throughout the series. I hope he explores the relationship of this place with the supernatural mythology he’s building more as the series goes on.
- More supplemental materials (appendices, maybe?) consolidating the myriad cultural references. But I’m a librarian, so it’s likely I’ll do a re-read and pull together literary and musical references (perhaps even create a Spotify playlist) and share that here.
What I need to warn you about:
This book is deliberately paced. There was definitely a point at which I thought, “Okay, I see why the Amazon reviewers complained about it being slow.” That said, it’s all leading somewhere and it’s all valuable. If I were doing reader’s advisory, I wouldn’t hand this to somebody looking for fast-paced action. I would hand it to somebody looking for atmospheric spookiness.
The big climax and resolution of the mystery are not why you want to read this book. They are of course very important to have, but what’s going to keep you interested is the mood and the world-building. Don’t jump in here expecting a typical suspense thriller. If you ran the numbers, I suspect you’d find mystery resolution takes up a very small percentage of pages or words here. But the supernatural element is woven throughout.
My favorite quotes:
“We’re a set of small black shiny beads who string around together, finding beauty the rest of the world has overlooked.” (p. 5 in the ARC)
“We’re in high school. Of course we’re egocentric,” Ivo replied matter-of-factly. (p. 83 in the ARC)
Who should read it:
I would recommend The Suburban Strange to readers who like books with a lot of atmosphere, a little mystery, and a slow but sustained reveal of supernatural elements.
Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker. Carolrhoda Books. 2009. Library copy. Buy it from IndieBound or Powell’s (affiliate links).
In Written in Bone, Sally M. Walker explores what scientists learned from excavating graves in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. They book examines not only burial practices, but also the evidence these excavations provide about lifestyles in the Colonial era.
Spooky Factor: Any time the pitch for a book begins with, “So, we exhumed some corpses…” your spooky kids are going to be on board. I myself think it’d be fun to read this, then write an essay called, “What I Learned from Dead People.”
On to the reviews!
Did you know that sometimes people used their cellars not to store food but as a trash dump? An archaeologist explains, “people lived upstairs and dumped fish parts and pig parts and chamber pot contents and goodness knows what else down there.”
Imagine that. Imagine dumping that refuse in your cellar. Wouldn’t it smell? How healthy would that be? Why would you do that? And then I thought about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the books where the Ingalls were snowed in for days and days and days. As a grown up rereading the series, I’d wondered, where did they put the trash? Go to the bathroom? Is that why a basement was used as a trash pit? And then… as the chapter reveals… a body was buried in the basement. Treated like garbage. Hidden. Unknown. For hundreds of years, until the secret was revealed. What was it like, to live in that house? To know that body was there?
When I first had heard about this book, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I am pleased with this and found myself really fascinated with what archaeologists do with human remains. I think that this book has a huge appeal, both to those interested in history and science, as well as those interested in the all-too-common “something different.” Oh, and boys will eat this one up! This is a book about people doing something and it gives boys tools to learn with (I mean, there’s also really cool images of skulls and bones, too).
Colorful pictures and flowing prose explains the process of excavating and studying a grave site, and explains how the details observed and analyzed tells us about life in colonial Virginia and Maryland.
…profusely illustrated with photos of skulls and skeletons…
Tessa Gratton at Writing & Ruminating
Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Padian at Bildungsroman
Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Vera Brosgol at lectitans