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The author of Lily’s Ghosts brings us a book so funny that it hurts, set in a magical world so weird that it can only be New York City. She doesn’t come right out and name it, though. She describes it as “a vast and sparkling city, a city at the center of the universe.” But it’s also a city that has grown upward because the natural moat around it prevents it from spreading outward; a city with skyscrapers, subways, a Little Italy, a Chinatown, a Radio City Music Hall, a Times Square, and a Brooklyn Bridge. Its criminal underworld includes a tribe of subway-dwelling Punks (who, when captured, get sent to a Punk Preserve in England), a gangster aptly named Sweetcheeks Grabowski, and a gang even more aptly named the Sewer Rats of Satan.
But in case that’s a too-accurate description of the New York you know, the city in this book has some added twists. Like vampires. Like super-intelligent cats who can flush toilets. Like a menacing goon with a zipper on his face. Like a professor with grass growing on his scalp, who can produce an endless supply of kittens from the pockets of his overcoat. Like an orphanage full of children whose memories have been stolen by a collection of wind-up monkeys. Like the fact that most people can fly (more or less gracefully), and those who can do so really well are called Wings, and those who can’t fly at all are called Leadfeet. Like the heartbreak of the Richest Man in the World, who would give anything to recover his lost child, while a girl named Gurl discovers that she has the power to become invisible.
Gurl is, in fact, the first Wall born in over a century. Just as Wings get their name from their ability to fly, a Wall is so named because he or (usually) she seems to become part of the wall behind her. When the evil Mrs. Terwiliger, matron of Hope House for the Homeless and Hopeless, notices that Gurl is a Wall, she forces her to use her talent to steal shoes and fashionable clothes for her. Meanwhile, a boy who calls himself Bug, even though everyone else calls him Chicken, works through some anger issues (such as punching walls, Wham!) while dreaming of being a Wing. Everyone says he is a Leadfoot. But when he uses his lock-picking talents to help Gurl break into a plastic surgeon’s office for Mrs. Terwiliger (don’t ask why), the two kids begin a friendship that will have magical results.
Many things stand in the way of Gurl and Bug’s dreams. A monkey spills some secrets that jeopardize their friendship. A rat in human form is stalking Gurl’s precious cat. A mysterious man named Jules keeps turning up at crucial moments, seeing right through Gurl’s invisibility. A gangster has plans for Gurl that include torture, threats of dismemberment, and the theft of a magical pen that can rewrite history. That’s probably only the beginning of a lifelong career as a captive accomplice in crime that awaits Gurl, unless Bug can forget that he doesn’t know how to fly. And in a climactic crowd scene, a flying race turns into a brawl, while a parade balloon full of poison threatens to kill thousands.
Laura Ruby’s other books include a sequel to this book titled The Chaos King, a novel about blended families titled I’m Not Julia Roberts, and teen titles such as Good Girls, Bad Apple, and Play Me.