Scott Mebus obviously has a thing for New York. Not surprising, as he's a long-time resident, working in theater, music production and television (VH-1 and MTV). Gods of Manhattan is his homage to the mysteries of Manhattan, the island borough of New York -- where more rich people live in the smallest amount of space than anywhere else in America. The island has a rich history, and Mebus mines it for his story "Gods of Manhattan." (Penguin/Dutton, May 2008).
13-year old Rory Calhoun and his little sister Bridget get introduced to a Manhattan they never knew existed. It's sort of an alternate reality, called Mannahatta. It's a place where people who have made some sort of impact on the history of the island go after they die -- it is populated by figures such as Babe Ruth, Walt Whitman, Dorothy Parker and major players in New York history from its New Amsterdam days. Rory has some sort of connection to this world, as he soon discovers he is what is called a "Light" which gives him the ability to see and even enter this world. Of course, this ability makes him a target for the evil-doers (of which, like its namesake, Mannahatta has many).
There are talking cockroaches (which reinforced the shades of "Gregor the Overlander" I was seeing), magicians, characters made from papier mache, and one adventurous scene after another. Mebus writes with a wit that reveals his stand-up comedian roots, but pulls a Stephen King in that he gives his young heroes an intellect beyond their years (especially Bridget).
The history lesson in the story is not an easy one to follow. Younger readers might have a hard time understanding the historical references, but the characterizations are interesting enough to keep tweens and above turning pages. The story really dug its hooks in for me about halfway through -- and I enjoyed it -- but the more I thought about it, the more I started scratching my head about a few things.
After Googling around about it, I found a review from School Library Journal which kind of sums up what I was thinking. Read the review hereSPOILER ALERT: the linked review gives away major plot points from the ending, so be forewarned.
Without revealing too much, let me say that Mr. Mebus' Gods do not accurately represent the melting pot that is New York to the extent that I would have liked. This is especially true of the Council of Twelve, who boast only one member of a race other than white. And the resolution surrounding the Native American Mumsees and their imprisonment in Central Park was disappointing in the least and offensive in the worst (again, see the SLJ review for more).
However, given the wrap up, I have no doubt Gods of Manhattan 2 is being written as we speak.
While this was an entertaining read, and an extremely enticing concept, I found myself wishing Mebus had done something different, something that truly demonstrated the historical implications of all those millions of people from different walks of life and different cultures coming together in that small section of the country... something that fictionalized the history lesson in a broader way.
That said, I give Gods of Manhattan three bookmarks on the Cool Kids Read scale.
Have you read it? Post your thoughts!