The Night Tourist -- Katherine Marsh
While headed to his after-school job (assisting the head of Yale's Classics department with her new translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses), ninth-grade prodigy Jack Perdu is hit by a car. When he wakes up in the hospital, he hears an extremely strange conversation between a nurse and a very old man, but he figures it must have been a dream.
"Who are you?" Jack asked.
With a loud shout, the man leaped off the couch and dropped the piece of paper. His eyes bulged at Jack. For a moment, they just stared at each other. Then the stranger ran to the open window and, without a word, jumped out of it.
Jack dashed to the window and looked out at the courtyard. There was no sign of a body. The courtyard was empty.
An old map bearing his dead mother's name, a tour of Grand Central, John Donne's Song (which fans of Howl's Moving Castle will be very familiar with), a girl called Euri and a golden subway token lead him to New York's underworld. And by underworld, I don't mean the world of organized crime. I mean the Land of the Dead.
The Night Tourist is very readable, a page-turner with likable characters and a plot that winds around and around and back again. The mechanics of the underworld is just... neat, the guards and Cerberus are legitimately scary and the scene with Dylan Thomas is priceless.
There are a lot of references to Classical lit: There are quotes, retellings of old stories, and quite a few moments when Jack thinks/talks about the different ways that a single word can be translated. The Orpheus and Eurydice myth is a major theme -- it's introduced on the second page and keeps popping up throughout. I'd recommend the book to young fantasy fans who have been enjoying the recent spate of books set in New York City. (How's that for specific?) Also to fans of (obviously) classical mythology, to fans of Dead Lit, and it might be worth trying it on young urban fantasy readers.
Note: Some people may be bothered by the suicidal background of (at least) two of the characters -- I actually wouldn't be surprised to see it get challenged due to that.
Gripe #1: There was something odd about the rhythm. The sentences didn't seem to flow, somehow. I can't describe it more than that unfortunately, and it's probably totally just me. But I did get a real Stop and Start and Stop again, especially at the beginning.
Gripe #2: This is minor, but it catapulted me right out of the story. At one point, Jack and Euri are hovering over a fountain in Central Park. They have to hold hands, or Jack will fall. So, they're there, hovering, planning their next move, when Jack reaches back and pulls the map out of his backpack. One handed. One would assume that he had to unzip it, too. Oh, it's possible, sure, but it would have been so much of a pain that you'd think there'd be some mention of it being a pain. Then, he hands it to Euri, who opens the map and traces the lines on it with her finger. So she's holding the map and tracing the lines. With one hand. No mention of difficulty. Anyway, again. I know that that's totally just me being annoying, but that stuff matters to me.