The heart is a bullet that is terrified of blood
love is a windshield wiper in a hurricane
nothing is ever clear – Andrea Gibson
Happy Valentine’s Day!
First, I am rather ambivalent about this holiday that people either love or hate. I dislike that as a single person, I’m EXPECTED to be bitter and angry and sulky. That expectation centers around the assumption that I am inherently unhappy without a partner in my life. It also suggests that I have no access to love in my life except through the romantic or sexual nature. Seeing as neither assumption is true, I don’t see why I should be bitter and angry and sulky about a holiday that, while highly commercialized, is about love, something that is universal, important, and integral to our experiences as humans.
Secondly, for the holiday, I give you Stubborn Love by the Lumineers (go buy their album. Seriously. So. Much. Win.) which is this melancholy, nostalgic, bittersweet look at the world and I love it.
Onto the book stuff!
On Monday night I went to the author panel/signing at Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA and I picked up THE ARCHIVED by Victoria Schwab. I actually read half of it that night, and finished it Tuesday morning.
If I hadn’t been completely exhausted, I would have stayed up all night reading it but it was 2am when I decided to sleep for four or five hours before finishing the book. I’m glad I did because I needed all of my neurons firing for this book which doesn’t typically happen at 2am.
THE ARCHIVED is the story of Mackenzie, a teenage girl whose family recently moved to a former hotel turned apartment building after tragedy struck their family (literally. Okay, this is a really terrible pun. I’m sorry.) Mac is a Keeper, which means she makes sure that Histories (who are like the imprints of dead people, which reminded me of Ron Weasley’s line about Inferi “Excuse me, are you the imprint of a departed soul?”) do not escape. She gets the names of escaped Histories and she restores them to the Archives where Librarians work. It’s violent work. Turns out that dead people don’t always want to stay dead, and that, very much like living people, they frequently get violent in their confusion and fear, and, again, like living people, they are also willing to jump at the first logical offered possibility because they are confused and afraid. Mac coaxes, tricks, cajols, kicks, beats, and shoves Histories back through their proper doors to return them to the Archives.
She’s one of the youngest Keepers and got that honor because her grandfather was a Keeper and taught her everything he knew. (At one point, Mac says something like, “Clearly he did not have a grandfather who thought of fighting as a bonding activity.” I don’t have my book right in front of me but I grinned at that line.) He was Crew, which meant he had a special key that could rip into the fabric of our world and open up a hole to the other world (the Narrows & the Archives, and Nothing, which turns out, is a Thing).
Mac discovers that something is wrong. There are too many Histories escaping from the Archives. There’s a History in her section who isn’t scared, isn’t slipping, and doesn’t behave like other Histories and he’s tied to the mystery Mac sees all around her in her new home. And she has a new friend. For the first time, Mac meets another Keeper, a boy named Wes who is her age, with whom she can confide, and with whom she does not have to lie (which doesn’t mean she doesn’t, but it means she doesn’t have to, which is even more empowering, in my opinion).
THE ARCHIVED’s greatest strength lies in Mac’s voice which is strong, with an edge, but not sassy and not dripping with snark as sometimes overwhelms YA novels. The story reminded me at points of Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for you people who are too young to remember this, is ridiculously awesome and I think the entire thing is on Netflix Instant Watch, so please go watch it, before or after you read this book) and even Buffy could be dripping in snark and cyncism to the point where I wanted to throttle her. Mac’s voice is just enough, and not too much, a delicate balance and the sign of a nuanced hand. The secondary characters (particularly, Roland, Mac’s parents, and Wesley) were so well constructed that you could feel them through the page and it could have just as easily been a story about those characters and their relationship with the Archive (regardless of whether they knew about it or not).
While a little slow to start, THE ARCHIVED is the story of a girl who wrangles escaped dead people (who aren’t quite ghosts but aren’t alive) but has not successfully come to terms with the deaths of her grandfather and her younger brother. It is the story about returning, in all senses, and letting go, and it is a story about truths. Everyone carries inside of them a different truth, and this is true inside and outside of fiction. We always know our side of the truth, and we carry within us a certain set of assumptions about how we live, a Truth that sometimes we force upon others and sometimes is at odds with others’ Truths. Mac’s Truth was molded by her grandfather, but over the course of the story, Mac begins to find her own truth. She starts to think about the rules she needs to break, the rules she wants to break, and to whom she owes honesty. She meets someone who knows how to tell when she’s lying even to him when he knows her secret and doesn’t need to be lied to to protect him. Truth is powerful. Lies are as dangerous as the truth. Lies can put people in danger at the same time that they protect people from getting hurt, and so can Truth. But to connect to other people, to make her first real ties to the Outside world since her grandfather and brother left her, Mac has to adjust her own Truth.
THE ARCHIVED is a sticky story. I finished it on Tuesday morning and I’ve thought about it almost constantly since then. It sticks to you and clings to your bones in ways that you don’t initially expect. It’s powerful, and it’s surprisingly raw although it doesn’t feel like that as you’re reading. It’s incredibly emotional and heartwrenching. And I’m glad that there’s a sequel coming!
Good g-d that got long. You should all just go read THE ARCHIVED yourself.
At the top of this (now extremely long) post, I had a picture of four books. Yesterday, against my bank account’s better judgement, I picked up these four books:
Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (though I wish I had this cover and not the movie’d cover)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cat Valente
I’m reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making first, hopefully finishing today so I can read Paper Valentine tonight (it seems appropriate!). I also got my blog-won copy of Homeland by Cory Doctorow yesterday so at some point, I need to tackle that. This should keep me busy for a little bit!
I’m also still plugging away at three stories simultaneously (for better or for worse). I’m working on my adult/new adult spec fic apocalyptic novel, a contemp YA novel that is like ringworm, and in the back of my head, I’m turning over a new story idea that is very fairytalesque with an alt history bent. It’s not something I’m familiar with so if I’m going to sit down and write it, it’s going to involve a LOT of research. I haven’t done that yet, so it mostly has a one page summary on a word doc that I keep staring at.