Stella Park (Spark for short) has found summer work cataloging historical archives in John Stone’s remote and beautiful house in Suffolk, England. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and her uncertainty about living at Stowney House only increases upon arriving: what kind of people live in the twenty-first century without using electricity, telephones, or even a washing machine? Additionally, the notebooks she’s organizing span centuries—they begin in the court of Louis XIV in Versailles—but are written in the same hand. Something strange is going on for sure, and Spark’s questions are piling up. Who exactly is John Stone? What connection does he have to these notebooks? And more importantly, why did he hire her in the first place?
I picked up this book on the “new Teen release” shelf, mostly being intrigued by the cover. Well, and the description, which turned out to be a little misleading. I actually thought the book was going to be super cool and built up this whole plot line before reading it. Now that I know that that is not what the book is about, I can use it myself if I ever wanted to. Yay! Except, I didn’t pick up the book so I could evolve my own plot, I wanted the book to be about what I thought it would be about. And it wasn’t.
It felt like the book lacked substance. Spark was about the most boring person in the world, and had no motives, interest, or any other part in the story except to being an outside person trying to understand the inside lives of a group of people who seem to be stuck in the past.
The premise of this book was good. There was a lot of potential to being a mystery story, except the author blotted out all the mystery by telling you everything at the beginning. Snore. Honestly, I actually didn’t finish the book. I got about halfway through, and then flipped to the end to see what happened in the ending. Why was I not surprised? A plot twist should be, well, a twist, not something you saw coming fifty miles away.
The writing was also severely choppy; it felt like the author’s first novel. In the first paragraph about Spark, she is saying goodbye to her mummy; the second paragraph she is sitting on a train thinking insignificant thoughts; the third paragraph she is in New York City and seeing her brother; the fourth paragraph she loves New York and thinking more insignificant thoughts. A lot of stuff was soooo dry; if I had been the editor I would have thrown it back at the writers face with big “X” marks over chunks of the first few chapters.
My sister and I have this character test. If you took anyone else in the whole world and gave them the same set of choices, would they have done the same exact things? 1. If you answered that there were no questions asked in the whole story, then you have got a lot of plot and ideas but way not enough character development; those types of stories are ones where the character is swept into the action without any choice. 2. If the story presented complex questions but the character has an interesting backstory that conflicts or decides which they answer, then the story has a crazy amount of promise, but at that point authors often lack plot. 3. And then there are stories which often have a little bit of both, but the questions asked are sort of one-track, like yes or no, but even though this sounds a bit shallow it is these stories which often have the best balance of plot and character.
The Many Lives of John Stone perfectly describes the first example: Spark isn’t really asked any questions at all and is sort of just there as a narrator, BUT in order for this story to have worked, it would have needed a huge amount of both mystery and action. There wasn’t enough of either for the story to be a favorite.
The Hunger Games gives one good example of the 2nd type of story; while I don’t particularly find Katniss to be a complex character (most life and death questions are simple in this case), she does make one choice at the end of the first book that is a little more complex. During most of the story, she is given yes or no questions, such as, “would you give up your life to save your sister”; while this may seem like a hard question to ask, it still is a yes or no answer. However, at the end of the Hunger Games, when Katniss and Peeta are the last two contenders and are told they must kill each other, Katniss makes a more complex choice. The basic question to most people would be, “do I kill Peeta or not?” But Katniss chooses to look at the basic question in a deeper way and finds a solution that requires backstory and a small amount of emotional understanding for the reader.
Harry Potter, in general, is a mixture of the first and third example. Most of the time, he isn’t give any questions but is thrown into a situation without a choice, or is given simple, easy questions. Example: He lives with his hated Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, who mistreat him horribly. When a giant of a man shows up on your doorstep telling you you are a wizard and asks if you want to learn more about magic at a magical school, what would you say? This is one of those wishy-washy questions; anyone in his position probably would have said yes considering his terrible relatives, but a lot would have said yes even without them. However, because there is a huge amount of plot and mystery the readers can more easily forgive Harry’s depth of character and still love the book to pieces.
All that being said (and sorry for the sidetrack, but I find it really interesting), there were a couple really bright spots in the book. The other characters were brilliant and awesome, just not the main character. It felt like a lot of the plot was driven by the other characters reaction to the main character instead of other way around. You might like this book if you enjoy the idea of time travel or immortality type stories.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Audience: Ages 12 and up