One For the Records

At age twenty-five, Nashville resident Victoria Schwab has published her second YA novel, The Archived

by Sarah Norris

The Archived
By Victoria Schwab
Hyperion
336 pages
$16.99

At only twenty-five, Nashville author Victoria Schwab has experienced the kind of success most authors only dream about. Her debut novel, The Near Witch, was published when she was barely twenty-three. Two years later, her second YA novel, The Archived, has just hit shelves. This year will also see the arrival of Vicious, Schwab’s first novel for adults. She’s already sold the sequel to The Archived, and her prolificacy is matched only by her marketing savvy: Schwab and four other YA authors—Beth Revis, Marissa Meyer, Marie Lu, and Megan Shepherd, each with a different publisher—have joined forces to create “Bringing YA to You,” a group author event. The site of the panel discussion and book signing will be determined by an online contest in which readers vote.

“I really like taking human-condition issues and putting them under supernatural framework,” Schwab said in an interview last fall, and that penchant is clear in The Archived. The story takes place in a haunted former hotel (now an apartment building), where sixteen-year-old Mackenzie Bishop and her parents have taken up residence following the sudden death of her little brother, Ben. In the aftermath of this loss, Mackenzie’s thoughts shift between the past and present, the living and dying, often returning to conversations she shared with her grandfather, Da, who died four years earlier.

In Mackenzie’s world, when people die they become Histories, which are shelved in the Archive: “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Meant to be accessible only to Librarians, the Histories make frequent attempts to escape as they are being delivered to the Archive, but they are kept contained—through manipulation and manhandling, if necessary—by a highly select group of men and women called Keepers. Mackenzie, like her grandfather, is a Keeper of the Histories. Trained by Da and cautiously vetted by the Librarians, Mackenzie earned her role as Keeper when she was only twelve, making her the youngest Keeper in history.

This post takes up a great deal of Mackenzie’s time and energy, but she’s forced to keep it a secret, unable to confide even in her increasingly suspicious parents. Hiding the truth about this side of her life means Mackenzie must sneak around—volunteering to deliver her mother’s homemade muffins to the building’s other tenants, for example, when her real intention is to track down escaped souls.

The narrative is plumped to its edges with action and emotion: bloody knife-fighting, recurring memories of beloved family members, flirtatious run-ins with an eye-liner-wearing male stranger, not to mention Mackenzie’s staggering responsibility for keeping the dead where they belong. Further complicating her task is the fact that someone has been sabotaging the Archive, rearranging the Histories and deleting entire chapters. The chaos makes Mackenzie’s occupation even more urgent than usual.

The desire to make her grandfather proud goes a long way toward keeping Mackenzie focused, and being a Keeper has taught her how to lie, stalk, and fight. It has also prevented her from living the life of a regular teenager. “A confession: sometimes I dream of being normal. I dream about this girl who looks like me and talks like me, but isn’t me. I know she’s not because she has this open smile and she laughs too easily,” Mackenzie thinks. “She doesn’t read the past or hunt the restless dead.” And the necessity of secrecy about who she is and what she does leaves her feeling more and more isolated. Naturally, this being YA, a timely love interest arrives to fill that void.

The Archived has been recommended by USA Today, and earned staggering online praise from (mostly teenaged) readers of advance copies. One of them wrote, “I cannot express how wonderful this book truly is. In a market dominated by dystopians and paranormals drowning in overused concepts and plots, The Archived punches through them all as a true original work, demanding to be read. As it should be.” For readers of YA fiction, particularly girls, The Archived is one for the records.

Published Wednesday, 30 January 2013