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Once Upon A Midnight Dreary

A review of Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys, a book that includes (but is not limited to): psychics, a quest, and private school boys.

Once Upon A Midnight Dreary
This particular quest fills that quest-shaped hole deep inside me with its awesome and historically linked proportions.

BOOK REPORT for The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover Story: Gorgeous
BFF Charm: Make It Rain
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: Southern Gothicish
Bonus Factors: A Quest, Virginia, Fantasy Elements Done Right, Growing Up Steel Magnolias
Relationship Status: God, I Love This Book

Cover Story: Gorgeous

I thought for sure Maggie Stiefvater herself painted this cover, since she's wont to do such things. But no, the honor of book design goes to Christopher Stengel -- well done, you! This cover has absolutely everything to do with the story, and is beautiful to boot. Scholastic, I was NOT ashamed to be seen with this book, so thank you very, very much.

The Deal:

Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia, who have all warned her, at one time or another, that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. This is all of no consequence, however, because Blue doesn't believe in such things -- true love, not psychics. She definitely believes in psychics, even though she's the only one in the house without a psychic ability.

So when Blue accompanies her aunt on her family's annual visit to the old abandoned church on St. Mark's Eve, she doesn't expect to see the dead walking along the old road, because she never has before. But something changes this time. This time, she sees a boy, and he speaks to her. He tells her his name is Gansey, and she can tell by the Raven on his sweater that he's from Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has always had a strict policy of staying away from Raven Boys, but she can't help but be drawn to Gansey and his friends. Soon, she finds herself caught up in an ages old mystery that is both sinister and righteous, and Blue only knows this: that she must see things through to the end.

BFF Charm: Make It Rain

I loved the way Blue was a perfect mix of a wise old granny and a young woman full of quirks who hasn't even LIVED yet. Growing up around so many adults, she was left most of the time to her own devices, instead of being over-parented -- something that could be a blessing and a detriment, but which made Blue the girl she is, so I don't care. But I can't stop there. I wanted to become one of Gansey's things, (it's not weird -- you'll understand when you read it) and I wanted to protect Adam and show him how strong he was as the same time, and at the very least have an understanding with Ronan, and just hang out with Noah. I just want to join the whole gang AND their quest, okay?

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

As you can imagine from the many ominous warnings Blue's received all her life, this wasn't a kissing book. But there was SO MUCH POSSIBILITY!!! Stiefvater was very crafty with her relationship development, keeping me guessing about whether or not Blue would fall in love with one or another of the boys. And the boys themselves made me want to give this scale a 10. You know how there can be a group of boys that all compliment each other so perfectly, and sure, there's probably one that you'd especially like to make out with, but you also kind of have crushes on all of them? But then it goes deeper than that -- they're not just objects of crushdom -- you want to KNOW them, to be a real friend. That's how I feel about those Raven Boys.

Talky Talk: Southern Gothicish

Stiefvater takes the word "lush" to new levels in this book. It was rich and replete and felt old in that really fulfilling way that only old things can. The story is told in a way that has a southern gothic feel, but with updates: modern edges, sharper corners.

The predictions could be dismissed as coincidences, hunches. They were a chuckle in the Walmart parking lot when you ran into an old friend as promised. A shiver when the number seventeen appeared on an electric bill. A realization that even if you had discovered the future, it really didn't change how you lived in the present. They were truth, but they weren't all of the truth.

The whole thing has a rhythmic, lyrical feel. Stiefvater sometimes doubles back on her own words and phrases until the whole story is referenced and then referenced again and knotted up inside you in a somehow seamless line. I wondered early on if the writing was going to feel too grandiloquent, but that thought was quickly cast aside. I found it perfect. Plus, in a book full of characters, she made each one of them feel real within the first few pages, with little things, really, that all added up into giant character development.  Here's Blue's thoughts about Gansey's journal:

More than anything, the journal wanted. It wanted more than it could hold, more than words could describe, more than diagrams could illustrate. Longing burst from the pages, in every frantic line and every hectic sketch and every dark-printed definition. There was something pained and melancholy about it.

And a little bit about one of the boys:

Ronan didn't sound very interested, but that was part of the Ronan Lynch brand. It was impossible to tell how deep his disinterest truly was.

Of course -- as per yoozh -- I didn't read anything about the book before I started reading it, so when I got to the end, I was all "there's NO way she can wrap this up in the pages she has left!  How's she gonna' do it?" and then I read the last sentence, and was like, "WHAT THE WHAT?!!!" and "HOLD THE PHONE!!!".  Well, that's because it's a series, my friends, so the upside is that we get to read more (which is good, because I REALLY didn't want the story to end). The downside is that we have to wait.

Bonus Factor: A Quest

WANT. MORE. QUESTS!!!!! JENNY SMASH!!! This particular quest fills that quest-shaped hole deep inside me with its awesome and historically linked proportions.

Bonus Factor: Virginia

Virginia is for Lovers y'all! Lovers of all things! You want oceans? Virginia HAS oceans! You want mountains? We got LOADS of 'em! The greenest rolling hills ever your eyes will see? Right HERE!!! History? HELLOOO!!! It's a part of the south, but isn't a part of the south AT THE SAME TIME!! And as a native Virginia girl (IF you couldn't tell), I identified with Blue's practical-mindedness, as only a Virginia girl can, and as best explained in Florence King's Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.

Bonus Factor: Fantasy Elements Done Right

Stiefvater folds the fantasy elements into her book in a way that makes them unexpected, and TOTALLY expected at the same time. She more than folds them in, she embroiders them in.

Bonus Factor: Growing Up Steel Magnolias

Blue isn't just raised by her mom, Maura, but a bevy of wonderful and flawed and possibly slightly crazy aunts and friends who are all of the psychic persuasion. Growing up with that much mad lady influence around you would either drive you batshit or make you one powerful girl.

Casting Call:

This one was easy, because this is exactly how I pictured Blue:

Willa Holland as Blue Sargent

As for the Raven Boys:

Tom Weston-Jones as Gansey (yes, yes, he's too old, whatever.)

Evan Peters as Adam

Sean Faris as Ronan

Alex Arnold as Noah

Relationship Status: God, I love this book.

The more I think about this book, the more I love it. I mean, I knew we had a connection from the beginning. We hung out and it was really fun, but also really intense. Then the book said it would text me, and I almost wasn't sure if I even wanted it to! Maybe it would be better to remember it the way it was from our weird, brief encounter? But then it did text me, and I held off texting it back for a while, just to prolong the feeling of promise our fledgling relationship held. Ultimately, thought, I fell -- head over heels over head again, and I can't wait to see this book again.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy of The Raven Boys from Scholastic. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!).The Raven Boys is available today!

Shameless Self-Promotion:

Check out our Raven Boys-inspired merch!

The Raven Boys is the FYA Book Club selection for March 2013!

Jenny Bird's photo About the Author: Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.
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