Why I Read It: I found this a few years ago in the bargain section at work and decided to pick it up because I had been meaning to read more de Lint (I had read The Blue Girl in high school). He's pretty huge when it comes to contemporary/urban fantasy and I was curious to see what else he had to offer. It didn't hurt that I later found out this was a stand-alone anyway (though I wasn't at all confused while reading The Blue Girl anyway, but I'd still rather read the Newford books in his recommended order if I can.)
I want to start off by saying that this book disappointed me. I'm disappointed because this story started out well (even though there were some things that bugged me), but then something happened near the 2/3 mark of the story that really left me cold.
So the story starts out with Grace, who we get to know a little bit before she's shot by a druggie in a convenience store hold-up. She ends up in a weird limbo that's a replica of a small part of the town she lives in and she finds out she can go back to the world of the living two times a year: Halloween and sometime in May (I forget what the particular day is called). When she takes advantage of Halloween (she died shortly before) she meets a guy named John. They connect instantly, but alas, she's kicked out of the world of the living the next day, leaving him baffled. After some snooping around though, John figures out the mystery of Grace (see what I did there?) and a bit of an unusual love story starts to unfold.
Okay, so first off, I'm going to point out the things I liked, which is named John and Grace's relationship. There was something so incredibly CUTE about it and I can't put my finger on it. It was actually borderline saccharine (some may argue it actually WAS) what with the insta-attraction which turns to love pretty quickly, and with John's borderline obsession with Grace. The guy does start liking pretty much everything Grace likes (that he knows of) such as fixing cars, and her kind of music and YEAH, that's a little much, but I dunno. I liked the two of them anyway. I also have a bit of a soft spot for long-distance relationships, being in one myself for the past two years (though Grace and John take it to a whole new level.) But anyway, there was something genuine and sincere about them together and I liked it, even if there was some weird-factor to it.
I also really liked the cursed after-life that de Lint created. It was fairly original and it was cool how we slowly find out just what the hell is actually going on with that place and why it is the way it is.
Now onto the things I wasn't so hot about. For one, I wasn't too impressed with the way Grace was characterized. By that I mean that I didn't like HOW de Lint went about presenting Grace to us. Grace goes on and on about certain aspects of her, such as her tattoo and her love of hot rods and custom cars and it goes on ad nauseum sometimes. Like OKAY, I get it, you have tattoos and people judge you because of it; ALL RIGHT you love cars, I heard ya the first time. Other than that though, we don't get too much else about Grace. She lacked depth. John felt a bit like a blank slate as well, especially since he fills the blanks with everything that is Grace, so his characterization felt a little off to me too.
Another thing that kind of irked me was the way the characters talked sometimes, especially scenes where John and his friends are conversing. There was something that felt really wooden about it.
Then there was that little event that happened near the end of the novel. SPOILERS YO.
So Grace can only see John twice a year, right? On Halloween and that day in May. The third time she goes to the land of the living to meet up with him, she finds that he's not in their meeting spot (the place where Grace died -- it's the "portal" to the world of the living for her). When she goes off to look for him on the highway, she finds out that he died in a car crash and doesn't end up in Alverson Arms. When I read that, I was SAD along with Grace. But then... but then Grace kind of gets up, brushes herself off and keeps going on her merry way. It is mentioned that she tries very deliberately to ignore John's death because she doesn't want to despair over it, but she really didn't seem nearly as sad about it as I thought she might be. I know she only got to be with the guy twice, but it still felt like they had a fairly strong connection or something.
After that, the plot feels like it plods along, and I understand that some of the stuff that happened NEEDED to happen, but I was so let down by the event I mentioned above and how it played it that I wasn't nearly as invested as I had initially been. I also felt that regardless of that, it went on just slightly too long. It went from being a "this is a pretty fun read" to a "..meh", which is too bad because I was enjoying the first part.Final Verdict:
I had some quibbles with this book (wasn't fond of Grace's show-don't-tell characterization and the focus on only a few of her likes and dislikes [and tattoos]; found some of the dialogue to be wooden; some aspects of Grace and John's relationship was a little border-line creepy for me, on John's part), but regardless I found myself enjoying it. I liked the concept of Alverson Arms and I liked how the revelation of the curse and how the place worked was played out, and despite finding John a little creepy in his fixation on Grace (and adopting pretty much all her hobbies) I still found their relationship really endearing. Then the Thing happened near the end of the novel and it really killed the book for me. I wasn't happy with how it played out and it made the end of the novel feel longer than necessary (even though it probably really wasn't). This was disappointing, as it was initially shaping up to be a fun, enjoyable (though not life-changing) read.