By: Victoria Schwab
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive. Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out
I wanted to read this book because its promise of a great premise (also note the absolutely gorgeous cover). I read the summary and I knew that I just had to read it. But, a lot of books that start out with a great premise just never seem to be able to live up to their potential. This is definitely NOT one of those books. If anything, the actually story greatly surpassed its potential. It became something more.
Smart and Brave Heroine: CHECK
Mackenzie had her issues and her flaws, but she was always relatable and even likeable. It's no wonder she had so much trouble letting people in, she lived this whole life disconnected from everyone else meaning she spent most of her life lying to someone. It was a part of her job to become a convincing liar, but it meant that she had to deal with her problems mostly on her own. So when someone comes along (like Wesley) who she can trust to understand what she's going through she doesn't know what to do with that. She doesn't know whether to trust it. And since she had been taught to build walls between herself and other people to stop the noise she began building walls not toward the noise but towards the people, even to her own emotions a lot of the time. One thing I really liked about Mackenzie was that she did what she had to do, she didn't complain or moan. She did wish she could be normal, but only for seconds at a time and never in a whiny way. She dealt with the problems because she had to. Her character also developed in an important way in this book, she learned to open up at least a little when she could. She told Wesley everything at the end even though she could easily have lied again, but she knew that he deserved the truth.
Intelligent and Funny Hero: CHECK
Another thing I loved about this book was that there wasn't neccessarily a "love story" aspect to it. Yes, there is chemistry between Mackenzie and Wesley and Mackenzie and Owen, but I would never describe either as "romance". Mackenzie spent time with Owen because he silenced the noise in her head and let her ignore her thoughts for a while, but that's just what Histories do, it wasn't unique to him. And Mackenzie and Wesley were only ever friends. By that I mean that there was refreshingly not even talk of a relationship or anything just to add angst and confusion. They really cared about each other, but not even neccessarily in that way. It's hard to describe because they definitely love each other, but it's just that neither made a big deal about needing to be in a relationship or even talk about being in a relationship. They were friends and partners. Okay, now I'm going to talk about Wesley anyway.
Wesley: I FLIPPING LOVE HIM. He was so funny and sweet and just nice. He didn't get too mad at Mackenzie, but he kept her accountable. And he made her laugh when she needed to the most. I loved that he dressed scary but wasn't at all and I loved that he read and was pretty smart but never felt the need to announce it to the world, he just let it speak for itself. And I loved how he fought through his area of the Narrows to get to Mackenzie and help her because she was his partner. And now some of my favorite lines of his,
"And I'm not going anywhere. It takes at least three assassination attempts to scare me off. And even then, if there are baked goods involved, I might come back."
"Well, there's this new girl who just moved in on floor three. Her family's re-opening the cafe. I hear she likes to lie, and hit people."
"You're clever, trying to distract me with my own good looks, but it won't work."
and I just think there should be more guys like him, or just more of him in the next book. Oh, and I loved how he didn't mind getting to know Mackenzie's mom and dad and how he helped her with her summer homework and just everything. EVERYTHING. yes.
Extraordinary Supporting Characters: CHECK
Roland: How can you NOT love a funny and cool Librarian in red Chucks? ;) But really, he was great. I really loved how much he cared about Mackenzie and how he didn't report her for Ben and basically anything that she did. He trusted her to start making the right decisions, and she did. He wasn't a replacement for Da, but I think he took Da's place in her life at least a little bit after Da died. Or at least he was someone who knew the Archive and how it worked and was watching out for her.
Mom and Dad: I loved how accurately their coping mechanisms were. Everything they did to get away from the memory of Ben were actually things that people do to cope with tragedy. They run and they pretend that everything is alright in the hopes that it will be. Or they throw things out or they hide behind constant action and noise. Their grief felt real and that's important.
Owen: I know that I probably should have seen it coming, but I did not expect his betrayal. As in it completely shocked me. I was just reading along (like you do..) and then BOOM it falls into my lap and I just thought, "Woah, this makes too much sense." Now I'm dying to know if he's really gone or if he can somehow come back from the Door to Nowhere. Beyond that I thought he was a very convincing character and villain, he was traumatized by losing Regina and he had the power to bring her back. Even Mackenzie gave in to her powers a little bit, it's easy to see someone less grounded than her giving in all the way.
Excellent and Thought-Provoking Plot: CHECK
This book was full of mystery and secrets, grief and pain, ancient murders and confusing cover-ups all leading to an inside job. But the best part was how all of these aspects started out as separate threads in the story until they started to weave together to form a pattern that matched to tone of the overall story. I loved how things slowly came together, connecting and twisting and then moving away again to connect with another part of the story. I think that this book was expertly paced. New things were always happening and interesting secrets were either being revealed or about to be revealed. And the plot wasn't just interesting, it was genuinely thought-provoking. Questions popped up like, would you try to get a family member back even if you knew it was against the rules and not even really them? Would you be able to send the Histories back after seeing how human-like they could be? Is history worth preserving despite all the trouble it causes? All of these things were really interesting to think about. And I loved the concept that objects could hold memories and that they could be accessed by the Keepers. I loved that dramatic, emotional events left deeper, brighter impressions on the surfaces and that patterns and repetive actions held a different, duller impression. I just think that was a beautiful concept and true to memories as they are held in our minds.
Brilliant Writing: CHECK
The writing was really fantastic in this book. It was clear and to the point, but also introspective in an odd way. I loved the bolded sections where Mackenzie was flashing back to talking with Da. It showed the depth of his influence on her and her beginnings as a Keeper. Another aspect of the great writing was the world building. The Archive was described thoroughly and consistently, the Narrows were rightfully chilling, and the Outer seemed a more interesting place after learning about all of the doors. I really appreciate Victoria Schwab's ability to tell a story and make the world feel real around you.
"But this summer is simple. This summer I am nine and you are alive and there is still time."
"Not every memory's worth holding."
"Fighting isn't really about using your strength, Kenzie. It's about using theirs."
"We protect the past. And the way I see it, that means we need to understand it."
"Requirement ruins even the best books."
"Isn't the point of a quest to get somewhere? To get home?"
"I hold my gaze and search for some of him in me, search for the part that knows how to lie and smile and live and be. And I don't see any of it."
"Because the only way to truly record a person is not in words, not in still frames, but in bone and skin and memory."