It was quite brave of me to give The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh a chance. Brave because it reminds me very much of two of my favourite books: Kiki Strike and The Lightning Thief. In fact, it’s almost like a cross between those two stories, with a little bit of its own thing going on too. It’s always dangerous to read a book that is closely linked in theme or concept to beloved books. How could it possibly measure up?
Well… if I had to say it in short, I didn’t find this one as satisfying as Kirsten Miller’s or Rick Riordan’s books, but I’d say it’s worth reading, and I imagine the kids will enjoy its mysterious, mythological elements. Also, the film rights have been snapped up by Universal and there’s a sequel in the works, so I think you’ll hear more about this one as time goes by.
The premise is great. Ninth-grade Classics prodigy Jack Perdu lives with his professor father on the Yale campus. One winter night, he experiences a serious accident after which his life changes forever (dum dum dum…). Soon after, his dad sends him to visit an unusual doctor in New York City. Jack hasn’t been back to the city since his mother died there a few years before. In Grand Central Station, Jack meets Euri, a girl who promises to show him the secret places hidden beneath the Terminal. Deep below the station Jack discovers a ghostly underworld and he and Euri begin to search for his mother in this strange parallel city.
There are several aspects of this book that pleased me. First off, the opening works very well. Marsh doesn’t mess about in the beginning. She really launches into the story in an exciting, to-the-point manner that I imagine will hook a lot of readers. By page 10, Jack’s had his accident and has already experienced his first strange, post-accident incident. I got caught up in this story very quickly. There are some great moments of humour too. For instance, when Jack asks Euri where Elysium is, she replies, “Somewhere in the Hamptons… that’s my guess, anyway.” Har har. There’s some nice wordplay peppered throughout as well.
On the other hand, I felt that Marsh didn’t sustain the momentum established in the early chapters, which is too bad, because the story got off to such a cracking start. In my opinion, Jack came off a bit flat in places, and when your story rests almost entirely on the shoulders of two characters, they had better be consistently interesting and well-drawn. Towards the latter part of the book, I wanted a bit more depth in the character development department. * Spoiler Alert * Euri is in the underworld because she committed suicide. I don’t object to the presence of suicide in a teen book in principle, but in The Night Tourist, Euri’s suicide is not given much attention. It’s mentioned and then more-or-less dropped for most of the story, which almost makes me wonder if it wasn’t inserted for shock value. Her history is never really explored or explained in satisfactory detail, which might have helped readers to consider why she made that choice. I don’t think you can just drop suicide (especially the suicide of a young person) into a story and never really “get into it.” It makes the character unbelievable, and it makes suicide seem less complex and serious, almost run-of-the-mill. This concerned me.
All in all, The Night Tourist is a good, quick read, with a strong sense of place. If you love New York City, you’ll likely enjoy all of the references to famous sites and monuments. I’m sure it will translate well to the screen. Check out this article on Katherine Marsh in USA Today.