Synopsis from back cover:
Alexandra O’Rourke, aged 16, is not a happy camper. It’s New Year’s Eve. She should be partying in San Diego with her friends, but instead she is stuck in Boston, with just her younger sister, Jackie, for company. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she is being haunted by Sarah, the ghost of a seventeenth century Puritan. Oh, and there is the small matter of the charge of witchcraft to be sorted out. Armed only with big shiny buttons and a helping of Boston Cream Pie, the sisters set out to restore the Natural Order. Can Alex solve the mystery of the Devil’s Book? Can Jackie help Sarah beat the sorcery rap? And can they do it before the fireworks display at midnight?
‘First Night’ is a highly original, quirky arrangement of humor, intelligence, research and a dash of courtroom drama. What first drew my attention to this novel was the level of history it appeared to draw upon, classing it in my mind as Historical Fiction for young adults. Indeed, it doesn’t disappoint. The author’s passion for history and love of the city are quite clear in the depth of research applied. Each chapter begins with a photo of an actual building, monument etc. in Boston, and a historical quote, which are often related to the central focus of that chapter. This supernatural story is firmly rooted in facts, and offers an abudance of information about Puritan life, customs and witch trials. This adds a level of realism and appeal which struck a chord with the adult in me, while my inner child was entertained by the witty, quick fire exchanges which highlight an action packed adventure of mystery and suspence.
First Night reads like a Young Adult novel – which is precisely what it is; it’s a fast paced, easy read which never gets overly involved. Well defined (but slightly underdeveloped) characters and a short although deep plot never quite allow you to forget that it is, in essence, aimed at a younger audience. Despite this, I found myself slightly disappointed that it is a Young Adult novel, as the standard of writing and concepts it explores surpass any typical Young Adult novel I’ve read. The language is precise, at times sarcastic, and above all highly intelligent. With regard to concepts, this novel doesn’t treat it’s audience as something to be merely entertained, but also as something to be educated, and provoked to deliberation about various ideas in the process.
The story starts out light-hearted and humorous, but gradually, layer by layer, it escalates into the realms of moral contemplation, as the mystery surrounding Sarah Pemberton’s trial becomes unraveled and exposed. It contains philosophical and sociological infusions contrasting two time periods, which are seperated by 300 years worth of change in culture and perception. Perhaps the only downside is how rushed the ending is. It isn’t by any means forced, in fact it’s a superb ending, but it struggles to express itself within the page limit. By the end, I almost wished it had been a 500 page adult novel with more detail. All the same, if more authors wrote like this for teenagers, they’d be a lucky bunch. Overall, this is a carefully crafted gem for knowledge-seekers. Impossible to put down, I’d recommend this to anybody, teen or adult alike, who wants a bit of light-hearted, but intellectual substance in their reading.