Monday, September 8, 2008

Book review of Mind the Gap by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

Teenager Jazz is nearing her London home one day after school when she realizes that something isn’t quite right. Her mother has always drilled into her the urgent need to stay alert and even paranoid, and to trust no one and nothing except her instincts. Jazz’s instincts tell her to scope out her house – and she discovers that the Uncles, a mysterious group of BMW-driving men who have both supported and terrified her mother since Jazz’s birth, have killed her mother and are waiting for her own arrival home.

Jazz runs for the nearest Tube station, and soon finds herself deep underground and under the care of Harry, a Fagin-esque character (but with more heart) who nurtures an odd assortment of young thieves who, for various reasons, have no home other than the bowels of London’s ancient underground warren of abandoned Tube stations, air raid shelters, and still older tunnels and rooms.

Jazz soon discovers that her keen awareness of London’s old ghosts is linked to the Uncles’ relentless pursuit of her. Harry has his own mysterious agenda, as does a dashing thief named Terence whom Jazz meets while robbing the same house. There is magic in London, and it’s dragging the City down, miring it in old tragedy and sorrow while the rest of the world moves on. All the players in this story are aware of this magic and want to use it for their own purposes.

Jazz’s constant and well-founded paranoia makes this book a prickly and exciting read, even as she gains self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Her fumbling attempts to make friends and achieve a sense of intimacy are touching and bittersweet, and are balanced by breathtaking and almost cinematic scenes that take place along abandoned Tube tracks and during dangerous heists. The conclusion is both satisfying and slightly ambiguous; there is plenty of hope, but also some unanswered questions and plenty of sadness.

Although not marketed as a YA book, this is an excellent book for teens, and no wonder, considering that both Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden have written for teens. The mixture of magic, danger, and a secret underground London world had my teen daughters clamoring to read this after I finished it. Perhaps this is not as poetical or imaginative as Neil Gaimon's Neverwhere or his other books, but it satisfies.

Recommended for ages 14 and up, plus Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman fans of all ages.

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