“The Night Tourist” by Katherine Marsh

30 Jan


I guess the easiest way to describe "The Night Tourist" is as a ghost story / Manhattan travelogue. You don't hear that one every day, I'm sure!

Ninth-grader Jack Perdu is the only child of a single father, an archeology professor at Yale. Despite his young age, Jack himself is a Classics scholar who is translating Ovid's "Metamorphoses" from Latin into English. Would you be shocked to learn, then, that Jack is an introspective loner with no friends? Yeah, I thought not.

Jack survives a pretty severe car accident with no apparent damage, although, just to be safe, his father puts him on a train to New York City to see a special doctor. The doctor basically photographs Jack and sends him on his way. Okay, then. While in the office, Jack does manage to snag an antique subway token. Good thing, too, because when Jack follows mysterious prep school student Euri into the bowels of Grand Central Terminal, that pilfered token allows him to cross over into the underworld. See, Euri is actually dead, and has been for some time. Turns out Grand Central is a sort of holding point for trapped souls, those who have died in Manhattan but have not yet moved on to the afterlife. Each night, those souls get transported above ground via fountains throughout the city. The souls (ghosts, spirits, whatever you want to call them) get to spend each night flitting about New York, but they must return to Grand Central each dawn.

So why is Jack — who survived the car accident — stuck in the underworld, too? Good question, and that's basically the central mystery of this appealing and beautifully written novel. Is Jack dead? Can he locate his deceased mother during his three days in the underworld? Will Euri be able to pass over, or, perhaps, somehow become human again? I promise, all these questions are answered, although the ending admittedly left me a bit befuddled. While it's refreshing when a teen novel doesn't wrap up in a neat bow, the resolution felt like a letdown. Eh, see what you think.

This book reminded me somewhat of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere," which takes place exclusively in "London Below," a sort of parallel world beneath London's streets. I liked that it explored the larger issues of life, death, and forgiveness, while also providing lots of action (flights through the city, guard chases, etc.) and plenty of humorous touches (for example, there is a souls orientation in the New York Public Library). Add in liberal doses of the Classics and a lovely sense of wonder in seeing New York from an utterly new perspective, and you have the makings of a complex, enjoyable, yet gentle novel about love and friendship. While I'd recommend this book for middle school age readers and up, I suspect that there are many adults who would like "The Night Tourist" as well. I hope you'll give it a try.

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Posted by on January 30, 2008 in Uncategorized


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