For months, I was champing at the bit, hoping to get an ARC of Melissa Grey’s The Girl at Midnight. The cover is beautiful, I love YA, the title reminded me of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and the author is a hoot on Twitter. So, I wanted the precious. WARNING: If you have not read the book, this review contains information some may consider spoilers.
Turns out, I was right to want to read it so badly. First and foremost, I was hooked when the Ala said, “When I’m feeling sad, I like to be around…books. They’re very good at making you forget your troubles. It’s like having a million friends, wrapped in paper and scrawled in ink.” I mean, come on. Right there we have a quotation destined for a poster, T-shirt, mug, you name it. Someone get on that, ok?
I immediately loved Echo, mostly because I recognized pieces of myself in her. Isn’t that what we all want in works of fiction, to be able to see ourselves/our situations represented? I was even more convinced by page 16, when Echo labeled her book hoarding “tsundoku,” a word I only just learned last year, because, well, I hoard books. Books are “home” to me—the first thing I would do when we would move was unpack books, at least one box, so that the new place felt more like home. The bonus with Echo, though, is that many readers—of various backgrounds—could see themselves in her, too. She has brown hair and brown eyes, and is described once as “pale,” but to me, I didn’t “read” her as being a member of any particular race. This is something I appreciated, and something that, as a mother of a bi-racial daughter and teacher to under-represented students, I value. My daughter and students don’t see themselves in contemporary young adult literature very much, and that is something that definitely needs to change. I’m heartened to see some of that change happening in Grey’s book.
Another thing I loved about Echo was her knowledge of and references to words in languages other than English—words that aid our expression when English will not suffice. Among other words, I learned kalverliefde, backpfeifengesicht, akrasia, petrichor, desenrascanço,. I have moments when I can’t think of the right word, and when that happens, I’ll just have to remember what Echo said: “There’s a word for just about everything if you look hard enough.”
Of course, as an English teacher, I love to see literary allusions in YA literature—they are a gateway to intellectual curiosity and a springboard to accessing other books and literature. There were several throughout the book, ranging from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes. What makes the allusions and language references work—and even more appealing to young adult (and adult) readers—is that Echo’s internal monologue and external dialogue are so believable, as are the rest of the narrative voices through which the story is told (Caius, Ivy, and Dorian). When I read, “The word was so salty Caius could almost taste it,” I chuckled. I’ve heard that word so much in my classroom, I was happy to see it. The inclusion of the word is believable, and it works (though I would’ve guessed that POV would’ve been Echo’s, not Caius’s).
Probably most importantly for the story to “work,” the world Grey built in TGAM is real and grounded—in New York City and other international cities—but also other, where it is possible to use shadow dust to travel via the “in between,” a place I’ve always sworn existed. Not only that, but the concept of bird- and dragon-like people is something fairly new and refreshing. They’re not entirely human, not entirely “other,” either.
Another beautiful thing I loved in Grey’s book was the lack of the ever-ubiquitous main character-boyfriend-secondary-potential-love-interest love triangle. Though shades of it are there, it was not prominent. What was prominent—and all the more beautiful to me—was the love triangle between Caius, Dorian, and Jasper. Though more a story of unrequited love on Dorian’s part, the representation of same-sex love and relationships was so naturally incorporated it warmed my heart. The inclusion of all types of romantic relationships, just like the inclusion of diverse characters, needs to happen more in YA literature.
I’ve quoted quite a few lines already, but the line that made the most impact was late in the book when Caius said, “Memories make us who we are…Without them, we are nothing.” I’m just going to leave that there because I’ve written a lot about memories, and I think Caius’s words say it perfectly.
Well, there you have it. Now go read the book! I’m about to go hand my copy off to a colleague who wants to read it after she saw it lying on my desk. And then I shall make all manner of impatient faces as I wait for The Girl at Midnight 2.
I hope you enjoy—and share—the book love!