Friday, April 29, 2011

The Night Children by Kit Reed

I found this book in the library "mystery" section though it's really not much of a mystery story. I have a soft spot for the kids-on-their-own, clans-and-kingdoms story.

Before I begin I simply must share the opening lines:

When you walk into the mall you expect to come out at the end of the day.
You expect to come out, at least, but it's midnight and Jule Devereaux is locked in a car at the top of the gorgeous WhirlyFunRide, high above the sprawling Castertown MegaMall.

In a nutshell: not really a mystery, but a thriller. Not really fantasy, though quite fantastic. Not really moralizing, but has some very definite morals.
A bit more detailed: The titular Night Children are the runaways {like urban Lost Boys except girls too} who lost their way in the MegaMall and were never reunited with their parents. At least, that's what most of them are.
The MegaMall is the dream of Amos Zozz, the fabulously rich, secretive owner. He seems not to know about the children... or when they're brought to his attention, he pays no heed.
But many of the people connected with the building of the MegaMall have mysteriously disappeared, including Jule's parents. Jule's had an argument with her aunt, and now her aunt is missing as well. She goes to the MegaMall and rides the WhirlyFunRide...too long. It shuts down and she is locked in there for the night. Or so she thinks.
Because the Night Children are on the move, and things are happening, and mysteries of the MegaMall are going to be revealed.

I actually loved this book. For some reason it reminded me of A City in Winter by Mark Helprin; the same fantastic reality, ever so slightly unreal and overblown. The writing style was more Philip Reeve, with its chatty, almost gleeful, enthusiastic/serious narrative.

I must say that, like I said, I am a real softie for children-on-their-own plots. But this one was much more. If anything, I only wish it had been longer. The plot was a little too hurried to really get at all the depths of the intriguing characters that were in it - I felt we were thrown too quickly through the action to get to know them as well as we could have.
Also, there is a bit of an unsatisfied plot thread left at the end... I am understating.

A quote:

...had been captured, Jule said, "He wanted to hurt me. Why should I care what happens to him?"
Tick added, "You want me to risk everything to save a guy who wants to ruin us?"
"Right," Jule said. "Why should we care when I could care less?"
...."Because that's what kids do for kids. We have to help each other, no matter what."
She started, "Even after he tried to..."
"Yes." Tick let her go and stood back. "It's what I do."

Can I express how much I like that attitude, in the avalanche of self-serving little protagonists who cheer at their enemy's downfall?
And I must say, it has a harsh message in the end against consumerism. Of course, that seems not too hard to work in, but it's there.
There's a very villainous villain who's motivated by... hatred and revenge, mostly insane. Must say that's a good thinking point, though - what do we do when people do truly terrible things to us? And are unrepentant? Do we nurse the anger or... leave go and free ourselves?

Age rec: the V. V. V. (very villainous villain) in his insanity proposes some fairly awful things... but since the entire book is unlikely to the extreme {or is it? must ponder this, esp. since I've been to the Mall of America} I don't think it would be a problem. So this one is MG and up. Would make a nice readaloud, I feel, too.

It's not often I tag a book "stellar" on its first reading, but this one has hit me right where I wanted to be hit, and I love it. Of course, I have a succeptibility to this sort of plot, since it's the only sort of hero I feel I could be: a hero who takes care of the others.

Note: Tick also is the first book character I know to use my people as a term to describe the children who depend on him. I say it in my stories and in real life, so this was another point that really touched me.

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