Saturday, December 18, 2010

REVIEW: Gods of Manhattan

Mebus, S.  (2008).  Gods of Manhattan.  New York:  Puffin Books.

340 pages.

Appetizer:  When thirteen-year-old  Rory witnesses a magic trick at his little sister's ninth birthday party that can't be explained, he starts to realize that magic is real and that he has the special ability to see magic throughout New York City.

But when a sorcerer, the gods of the city (who are historical figures--Walt Whitman is the god of optimism!), the gods' children, the memory of the Munsee Native Americans who originally inhabited the city and other magical creatures learn that there is a boy with the power to see the many layers of reality, some will try to protect him while others will try to use him for their own purposes.

On top of all that, for the first time ever, someone has found a way to kill the gods as part of a way to grab power.  It falls to Rory and his sister Bridget to figure out who to trust and the best way to maintain balance within the city.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Gods of Manhattan.  At first I was a little suspicious because both Rory and Bridget didn't really feel very child-like to me.  Well, Bridget did feel young.  But no way her voice was that of a nine-year-old.  Plus, the book jumped point of view A LOT.  So, it didn't feel very middle grade or even YA.

But as I kept reading, I really started to like the story.  It reminded me of Harry Potter.  At one point Rory has to break into a bank to steal a magical object, at another point Bridget magically becomes the luckiest girl in the world (and the way her luck works manages to be even more amusing than when Harry takes the Felix Felicis potion in The Half-Blood Prince.

I liked Rory's reaction when he started to realize that magic existed in Manhattan:
He dives "back into the safety of his apartment, his room, his bed, his world--where everything was just as it was supposed to be" (p. 13).
I liked this because this is very similar to my reaction when I encounter something that upsets me:  Take a nap.  Works every time when I feel the need to avoid reality.

And whether like a nine-year-old or not, I absolutely loved Rory's little sister, Bridget.  She was a very fun character.  Intent on protecting her brother, she buys steel toed boots and imagines herself to be a heroine, Malibu Death Barbie.

I also like the way the story attempted to take on the historical mistreatments of the Munsee Indians.  In the spirit world of the story, Mannahatta, the Munsee spirits were trapped in Central Park by the gods of the city.  Throughout the story questions of guilt and reparations are addressed, which could trigger some very thoughtful discussions about American history and the modern implications.  (This aspect of the book has *totally* made it into Dudley the Dissertation.)

This series may not be for everyone.  But if a middle grade reader already waded their way through Rirodan's Percy Jackson epics, chances are good they'll be up to the challenge of taking on Scott Mebus's Manhattan and seeing some figures of New York's history as gods (which can also lead to a lot of googling about the founding of the city.  I know that's what I did.).

On to the second book, Spirits in the Park!

Dinner Conversation:

"Adriaen van der Donck raced over the Henry Hudson Bridge at the northern tip of Manhattan, urging his steaming horse to go faster as he made a break for the Bronx.  Maybe he'd be lucky.  Maybe his enemy had neglected to pick an assassin with the right kind of blood" (p. 3).

"Maybe he'd save his city, though he couldn't save himself.  The assassin sprang, and Adriaen van der Donck stepped forward to meet him, his final trick ready to be played" (p. 4).

"Rory Hennessy, thirteen years old and never fooled, leaned in closer to watch the magician at work.  There had never been a magic trick, or a sleight-of-hand maneuver, or any other so-called illusion, that had not been picked apart, seen through, or laid bare by the eagle eyes of the elder Hennessy.  He could always spy the magician slipping the twenty-dollar bill into the volunteer's pocket.  He unerringly knew where the five of spades was hidden.  He would point to the shell with the marble under it every time.  He couldn't really explain how he knew.  He just did.  Rory would look a magician in the eye and suddenly the performer would no longer be a mystical practitioner of wonder, he'd be a sad little man with a weird hat.  He'd start to stammer, his rabbit would fall out of his sleeve, and he'd press the wrong button and pour water all over his pants.  Rory didn't do it on purpose.  It was just his gift" (p. 5).

"There is a world all around you that most mortals cannot see.  We call it Mannahatta.  Some say it is the spirit world, while others believe it is the city itself dreaming, or rather remembering.  If something or someone was important enough, loved enough, feared enough, imagined enough, remembered enough, then it is reborn here in Mannahatta" (p. 59).

"But I'm giving you another option, a chance to take control of your destiny.  You can do what they're afraid you'll do--ruin all their plans--and then it will be too late for them.  You'll do a great service to our city and protect yourself forever at the same time" (p. 62).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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