After losing his job in the economic crash of 2008, Clay Jannon sees a ‘hiring’ sign outside Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, and begins the job of his lifetime. On the night shift, it is Clay’s job to scurry up and down the three story high ladders which line the shelves of the shop to collect books for all the mysterious midnight customers – their only payment a book club card ID and an exchange of the last book they borrowed. All the peculiar Mr Penumbra asks is that Clay write down an intricate description of each customer, and that he never open the pages of the books in the back shop. Curiosity finally takes over, and though the books are unintelligible to him, Clay is introduced to a world of secrets, of which this tiny bookstore is the epicentre.
This book had me hooked from page one. From the opening description of Clay hanging from a fantastical height amongst the book shelves to the mundane goings on of everyday life, this book yo-yo’s between myth and reality. Clay is an interesting character to read without the intrigue of the bookstore and Mr Penumbra. With them, this story is almost magical, full of old men and women in strange clothing borrowing old tomes, secrets and legends.
There is something about the way this book is written which is entirely gripping. There are moments when it becomes hard to tell how much Clay is speaking out loud as the characters appear to interact with what we assume is his internal monologue. The intricacies of the plot are unravelled in a way which is both intelligent and easy to follow (particularly in the moment of the ‘big reveal’, in which some authors grapple with multiple strings to tie, where-as Sloan forms an easy knot, all the thread in his capable hands). It is spun out like an adventure quest from a fantasy game (and is very self-referential in this) but there is more to it than a simple story of a hero saving the day. There is no ‘hero’.
I hadn’t quite realised how much I enjoyed reading YA till I picked up this book. It’s 300 pages, but it only took me an afternoon to read. It was so easy – which is not to say it is a simple book. Far from it. But it was complicated in ways which were comprehendible. It had great depth of vision without overwhelming. It was light hearted and fun and serious and intimidating.
I cannot recommend this book more highly. 5/5 for me (I’d give it higher if I could).