May Bird is, surprise surprise, different from the other kids. More comfortable exploring the woods around her house in Briery Swamp with her cat, Somber Kitty, than she is with socialization, May doesn’t really have friends. So when she finds an old letter somehow addressed to her , asking for her help and providing a map to a mysterious lake, May’s curiosity gets the best of her.
Then she slumped. She felt as heavy as a sack of beans. But then, a sack of beans never got embarrassed or did stupid balloon tricks in front of other sacks of beans or forgot to l0ck the bathroom door. Come to think of it, life was probably easy for all the beans of the world. Being a sack of them wouldn’t be so bad. (pg 17)
Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately), this lake is a portal to the Ever After; the land of the dead. After barely escaping once, May eventually finds herself dragged to the bottom of the lake only to be saved by the houseghost for White Moss Manor (her home), Pumpkin. Now in the Ever After, she has a choice: go north, to the Lady who wrote the letter, or find the Book of the Dead and learn how to get home. But while she’s in the land of the dead, May Bird is not dead and if she is caught, the Bogeyman will surely suck her into nothingness.
So on the surface, May Bird, the first book of a trilogy, is rather generic. Outcast kid finds his or herself in an alternate world? Not exactly screaming originality. What makes the book so amazing, then, is the writing: rather than just lay down some cliches and call it a day, the book’s author, Jodi Lynn Anderson, takes the time to make the characters human and put some thought into what goes on, ultimately creating a unique story.
“Didn’t you know bees are psychic? Oh, of course not. Live Ones don’t know much of anything, of course. Now, let’s see . . .” (pg 87)
That writing, right? It’s pretty fantastic; the prose mostly reads effortlessly, mixed with appropriate amounts of charm and whimsy as well as suspense and drama. What the prose often fails to do, however, is to capture the emotion of a moment: certain sections read a bit jarringly, as if they’re only going through the motions rather than truly describing the action. It’s irritating, but ultimately doesn’t sully the book too much.
Then there’s the characterization, which is often uneven. May Bird and Pumpkin are amazingly human characters, and their eventual friendship feels completely natural–May always seems to have the right reactions to the book’s events, keeping her grounded in reality as the book itself leaves our world, and while the book is fully from May’s perspective Pumpkin’s character is still equally well developed, usually cowardly but capable of real boldness once his self-esteem has been raised.
“It can’t be anything good,” Pumpkin said, pulling his knees up in front of his face so that only his eyes showed, and his voice came out muffled. “They aren’t supposed to be up here. Oh no, not good at all.” (pg 149)
There are two characters introduced near the end of the book, Beatrice and Fabbio, that aren’t as good: Beatrice is the better of the pair, with more promise of future character development, but Fabbio is pretty much just a stereotype. His English is half broken, his ego is huge, and he seems to be intended as some sort of comedic relief character without any comedy.
Finally, there’s the two villains: the Bogeyman, and Bo Cleevil. Bo Cleevil is unseen for the novel, left to just be an imposing figure in the distance; despite this, he still manages to come off as a cartoonish villain along with the Bogeyman, who seems to lack any real motivation other than… nothing.
A minor nitpick with the book in general, too: Anderson doesn’t seem to have decided how spirits work. In the book, there are two types of spirits: specters, who were once living, and ghosts, who never were. The issue isn’t really with that, though, but how they move: it’s implied that all spirits float, though a remark is made that it often takes a bit to learn how. The problem is that characters seem to go back and forth at random; sometimes they are floating forward, sometimes they’re running or tiptoeing. It is, like I said, pretty minor, but nevertheless kind of annoying.
But that’s enough of that: I need to give the book a score!
May Bird and the Ever After is really a great book. Its characters are, if not always great, full of color, and the plot and setting are vibrant and wholly engrossing. A few flaws prevent it from being worthy of five stars, but I still heavily recommend it.