On the day Jalen Jones turns thirteen, she pays a visit to the French Quarter emporium of voodoo priestess Madame Beausoleil to have her horoscope read. It’s a trip she makes every year with her beloved grandmother, Nina, but this year is different. Not only is Nina in a New Orleans hospital fighting a potentially terminal illness, but Jalen leaves the shop with an unusual purchase: a small leather book called The Keypers of the Zodiack. She hopes reading it will shed some light on her future. Instead, by opening the book, which is locked and bound in chains, Jalen inadvertently calls down all twelve Keepers of the Zodiac from their constellations in the night sky. Their new role: to retrieve and protect Ophiuchus the Snake, the secret thirteenth sign of the zodiac, a sign with the power not only to heal, but to return the dead to life—a sign which Jalen has unwittingly released into the world.
Opening the book has also reset the horoscopes of every single person on earth, which means their personalities have been altered. Jalen’s steady-as-a-rock mother is falling to pieces; her confident best friend, Ellie, and Ellie’s annoying older brother, Brennan, are not acting like themselves at all, and as for Jalen, the grief she has borne since her father’s disappearance when she was nine years old now seems overshadowed by new reserves of courage and resourcefulness. She will need both to outwit the Keepers, starting with Gemini, who shows up at her front door in a toga, invisible to anyone who has not touched the book, and soon realizes that Jalen is in over her head: “You’re not like the other Challengers,” she whispers. “You really don’t know. … You have no idea what you’ve unleashed on the universe, do you?” Gemini goes on to explain that Jalen’s only hope to right this wrong is to find Ophiuchus and cast her back into the heavens. And she’s only got twenty-three hours in which to do it, or all the horoscope changes will become permanent.
Fulfilling this quest is going to be a little difficult since the Keepers keep showing up in the most unexpected places, and they are all looking for a fight. First, the businessman on the street turns out to be Taurus the Bull. Then the housewife smoking a cigarette in her backyard is revealed to be Cancer the Crab. And the friendly tuba player at the bus stop, the convenience store clerk, the dreadlock-wearing construction worker, and the bride getting married in the park—are they real or are they Keepers? Jalen doesn’t know. Worst of all, Gemini has created a twin for Ellie, and Jalen can’t even tell which one is truly her best friend. Adding to the mayhem are two mysterious special agents, Cygnus and Griffin, who describe to Jalen the seriousness of the worldwide situation: “This shift has major consequences. Surgeons are suddenly squeamish and refusing to perform surgery. Airline pilots are afraid to fly. And our world leaders are now timid or aggressive or lax. Over the past few hours, several enemy countries have escalated toward war.” The bottom line: nothing less than world peace is at stake,
Traveling on foot and by car, ferry boat, street car, and even hot air balloon, Jalen and her friends race against the clock past historic New Orleans landmarks— St. Louis Cathedral, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, the Garden District—in search of answers. Will Jalen succeed in vanquishing the Keepers and sending each one back to its own constellation? Will she be able to find Ophiuchus and tap into her power in time to save her grandmother’s life? And what does any of this have to do with her dad’s disappearance? Signs are favorable, fortunately, and with a little help from her friends Jalen is sure to find the answers she seeks written in the stars. Tubb’s very creative imagining of the come-to-life zodiac characters pitted against a thoughtful and plucky young heroine, and a conflict set in colorful New Orleans, make for a fast-paced, suspenseful, and surprising tale.
[This review appeared originally on January 8, 2013.]
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb will read from The 13th Sign at the twenty-fifth annual Southern Festival of Books, held in Nashville October 11-13. All festival events are free and open to the public.
Tagged: Children & YA