Alex's world is about to become interesting when she is appointed as the new keeper of a mysterious place called, The Library.
Title: A New Keeper
Series: The Secret Library: Book 1
Author: J.C. Gilbert
ISBN: 9781096467113 Language: English
Type: YA portal fantasy (possibly MG portal fantasy - see comments below)
Themes: magic, libraries
What's it about?
All libraries are magical. Some libraries are more magical than others.
For Alex Reed, the world is an awkward place and books are her only escape. But when she is selected by a mysterious library to be its new Keeper she discovers that some books can be a lot of work.
Now Alex must balance her new adventures with the incomparable obstacles of being an anxiety-riddled teenager. All this would be completely doable if only Hank would do as he was told.
The cover is gorgeous. Alex is a relatable character with social anxiety.
Confusing to work out the target audience. Plot issues.
The ebook released 22nd May 2019 and follows Alex. Alex is a bookish girl of (I think) high school age who suffers from social anxiety. She has a best-friend called Lilly who is very supportive of her.
I'm going to start with the classification. This book is classified as YA (young adult) but reading it I felt it was much more suited to MG (middle grade) except for the language (I'll get to that in a moment). The book certainly features a school and they appear to switch classes (thus why I am guessing it is a high school) but I don't get a "teen" feel from the characters at all - more like curious 12 or 13-year-olds. This is at odds with the cover which clearly implies the MC is going to be an older teen. BTW the cover is absolutely stunning and what caught my attention first about this book - so a shoutout to Sara Oliver Design for the cover.
Characters. I'm going to start with Hank. Hank is not real. Hank is a personified creature of Alex's imagination to demonstrate her anxiety. I did not like Hank. I did not feel that Hank added anything to the story except to be a distraction from Alex. The social anxiety is a unique character trait for a main character and I would have preferred to see her own it, rather than almost make it a detached being from herself.
Alex is relatable enough, but with all the classes she skipped, and the assignment she failed to do, she only got one detention - that's it. I can't say that I liked Alex at all, despite having a lot in common with her, she never came across as a fully fleshed-out character.
Lilly, I actually found rather annoying, especially around the halfway point. Her behaviour and actions are, I believe, a reason why this book felt more MG than YA.
Oh and then there was Darcy, a character I would have liked to know better, but there is so much hinted that he just ends up fading away and I wonder: What was the point of Darcy? I'm going to assume a future love interest but, yeah, I didn't get enough of the character to invest.
Which brings me to the plot. I loved the idea of this book, but I feel it's trying to do too many things. This book has a whopping fifty-two (yes 52!) chapters. The first few chapters add very little to the story except for the disappearing shop and the mysterious business card. I read on because I wanted to see The Library and that's actually when the book took a nose-dive for me.
"All the books contained in the neverending library are the lives of people.
Not just people from Earth though - from all over the place."
And this leds me to my next issue - the story bounces back and forth, and this means that the world building suffers a lot. I might be just getting into Elaine's world and bam now Alex is here, then bam - now she's there, bam - no, she's here, bam - she's back in Elaine's world. A TV show can get away with this cause it's visual, but even then you'll get a good 10-15 mins in one place. Head-hopping is often cited as an issue in books - this book doesn't have that problem - what it has is scene-hopping issues.
I was about seventy-percent of the way through this book when I realised...What's the plot? What exactly is at stake for Alex? I think some of it might have meant to be Elaine and her story but there was so much else thrown in with Darcy and the time-travelers, and school, and friends....you get the idea.
Now, I did almost forget about the language. This is a fairly clean book in terms of language but suddenly Alex says "dick". Okay, it was a little odd because it seemed outside of her characterisation and the word didn't appear for a while and then suddenly there it was again about four-times on a page, and then there was the "What the F was that?" line (that might not be an exact quote). When creating a character you need to be consistent and while the words Lilly made-up and used grated me, random words like "dick" that the character only uses around Darcy just seemed odd.
I feel bad about continuing but there is another thing that brought the book down - the writing. When reading I lost count of the number of consequetive sentences in a paragraph beginning with the same word - "I" was a big culprit. Add to this the overuse of "was" and as a teacher, I wanted to run and hide. Stronger sentences would have made for a stronger story.
I think this book has potential as an idea and has a wicked cover, but it needs editing. If the characters were better fleshed out and the purpose of the library clearer, as well as why Alex is "the chosen", I feel the story would be more engaging.