This YA fantasy debut sees a tormented teenager who loves reading drawn into a battle between heaven and hell.
Seventh-grader Noah Thomas has just moved to Mid-Town with his mother, Evelyn. Because his father died in an accident, his mother works three jobs. The lonely boy is bullied mercilessly by a gang of kids led by Mike Nason. But life improves when tomboy Wendy Sherman moves to Mid-Town with her father, Earl, and her brother, Josh. Earl, a mechanic, has purchased Hersey’s Junkyard, and Wendy herself adores all things automotive. She and Noah become fast friends in class, and when Mike’s gang chases them home, Earl’s presence forces the punks to back off. Later, Noah begins helping at the junkyard, and Wendy fixes an old BMX bike for him. He rides downtown and finds The Book Shop, a strange store run by a man named Enoch who seems capable of floating and changing size. Enoch and his twin, Elijah, provide a series of instructional works to Noah, magical volumes that the boy can physically enter and train with powers like superspeed, flight, and astral projection. When Noah eventually finds an odd, ancient book at the library, he wonders if it’s connected to the mysterious twins. Little does he realize that opening it will unleash hell itself. In his novel, Smith explores religious subjects such as the Akashic records—which contain the history of all life—and bittersweet issues like growing up fatherless. The narrative first offers a coming-of-age foundation, where rooting for Noah and Wendy is a pleasure. Smith’s prose, perhaps better suited to high school readers, succeeds in emotionally satisfying moments with Evelyn and Earl and even reveals how Mike’s bullying doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The story becomes fantastic by stages, beginning with Noah’s travel through the books and then revealing Enoch’s and Elijah’s true identities. Genuine horror pervades the last third, with demons causing grisly carnage in Mid-Town and Noah transforming spiritually to enter the fray. A downbeat ending embraces life’s habit of surprising readers.
A spiritual thriller that skillfully celebrates determination and self-discipline.