Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Night Tourist

The Night Tourist
by Katherine Marsh
Recommended Ages: 13+

Jack Perdu is a ninth-grade Classics whiz who lives with his widowed father, a Yale University professor of archaeology. One day while crossing the street with his nose in Ovid's Metamorphoses, he has an accident that unlocks his ability to see ghosts. At first he doesn't understand what he is seeing, but when his father sends him to a strange specialist in New York, Jack is lured off his return trip by a ghostly girl named Euri who wants to give him a tour of the underworld.

It starts in the ninth sub-basement of Grand Central Station. From there Jack joins Euri in shooting out of one of the city's more than 50 public fountains, from which all the ghosts in New York emerge every night to fly around, haunt people and places if they're into that sort of thing, or just enjoy the night afterlife. Jack attends an orientation class for the newly dead, views a performance of a posthumous play by Tennessee Williams, enjoys an after-hours romp at F.A.O. Schwartz, and goes sliding in Central Park with a little less than his usual regard for the laws of gravity.

But mostly, what Jack wants to do is find his mother, who died in New York eight years ago. His attempts to trace her lead to one dead end after another, while time is running out before his deadline, at dawn the third night of his visit, to find his way back out of the underworld and rejoin the world of the living. Meanwhile, Euri seems to want Jack to help her undo the terrible mistake that put her where she is; and a night watch, led by a crooked ghost cop named Clubber Williams, is always a step behind them, hoping to feed Jack to a three-headed guard dog named Cerberus.

It's an absolutely undisguised update of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice - the lovers separated by death, one of whom went down to bring the other out of the underworld, and almost made it too. It's so very, very undisguised that while Jack is living through it, he keeps consulting Ovid, who wrote the classic version of it. And though Euri turns out not to be Euri's real name - which, face it, would be just too weird - what Jack eventually discovers is that a different, happier ending might not have been so very different or happy after all. It's a moving, maturing discovery for Jack as well as for the young readers who join him on his quest.

This book won the 2008 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. It has a sequel, The Twilight Prisoner, in which Jack returns to the underworld in a present-day teen version of another ancient myth. The managing editor of The New Republic magazine, author Katherine Marsh has also written the young adult novels Jepp, Who Defied the Stars and The Door by the Staircase.

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