Written by Lauryn Smith
One book, two authors. I must have been living under a rock, because apparently stories written by multiple authors are relatively common.
Case in point: "Nightfall" by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski. (Shout out to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers for introducing me to "Nightfall," my first dual-authored novel. Thank you for the free copy!)
“Nightfall” is a piece of young adult fiction that portrays the peculiarities of the remote, forested island of Bliss. On the island, Sunrise comes only every 28 years, resulting in 14 years of Day and 14 years of Night. The island's residents spend weeks preparing for Nightfall, completing a number of odd rituals, such as removing locks from houses, leaving doors partially open and strategically rearranging furniture. Come Nightfall, they hitch rides on furrier ships in order to flee to the Desert Lands, where they will live for the 14-year interim.
That is just how things work on Bliss, no questions asked. Any and all reasoning is shrouded in mystery. No one understands or speaks of what happens on the island during the cold years of Night, but everyone knows that the place should be avoided. This Nightfall, however, an unfortunate few are left behind. Once the furrier boats take off, three teens—Marin, her twin brother Kana and their mutual friend Line—are left to their own devices, and they come to understand the mysteries of the island uncomfortably well.
In my experience, many fantasy and young adult novels are hampered by authors' lazy attempts at establishing complexity, attempts which end in artlessness (for me, a straightforward reason for placement in the "beach read" category). The authors of “Nightfall" circumvent this unfortunate trend, rejecting the temptation to establish profundity, which I am sure was invoked by this book's genre and cast of characters. The book is simply a fun read through and through. If creating a pure, amusing story was the goal Halpern and Kujawinski had in mind as they wrote “Nightfall,” then mission accomplished.
If, for giggles, we do decide to try to analyze "Nightfall," we could say that it is a tale of family and friendship. For example, the reason Marin and Kana are left behind is that they determinedly go looking for Line, as he goes missing just moments before the boats are to take everyone away.
"Nightfall" could also be called a tale of ingenuity. Kana's extraordinarily distinctive characteristic (nope, can't tell!), along with the trio’s proven climbing and quick thinking abilities, help them as they traverse and explore the island, so different during the cold, unfamiliar Night than it is during the warm, familiar Day.
We could even go so far as to call "Nightfall" a tale of determination. As the main characters try to survive their predicament, they do not lose sight of the end goal, that is, making their way off the island, despite the increasing cold and numerous bumps and scratches they obtain.
In addition to smartly keeping the story's purpose simple, the authors balance the plot's elements well. No part of the story feels dragged out, and each point is relevant and important. The story's elements are clearly organized. Even the island's geography makes sense with words alone, though a map is included on the inside of the book's cover as a failsafe.
"Nightfall" is memorable largely due to the originality and illustration of the two-part setting. First, the says-so-much-by-saying-so-little depictions of the forested sections of the island are resourceful and inventive. Halpern and Kujawinski succeed in establishing the forest as eerie in some ways, inviting in others. The authors then add depth with a secondary setting. The tide departs as Night arrives, leaving behind hundreds of miles of exposed sea floor. Off the island's shores is a otherworldly realm that was previously only as curious as a leaf in the breeze. Together, these backdrops result in an ideal conceptual playground, an example of world-building at its finest.
Yes, there are some far-fetched aspects to the story. In fact, it has the same vibe as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. But both are works of fiction, invention. Magicians do not possess supernatural powers, yet magic shows are no less entertaining for this fact; the inherent trickery is accepted. In the same way, implausible facets of fictitious stories must be readily accepted for full enjoyment. “Nightfall,” which can be categorized as fantasy and dystopian fiction, is an example of such a story, where acceptance of fabrication is required. And in this case, it is easy allow belief, since the illusions are seamlessly integrated.
Still, the book has some room for improvement. For instance, as one reads "Nightfall," it is not always immediately clear from which character’s perspective the story is being told, as the point of view alternates between Marin, Kana and Line. Though it eventually becomes understood whose viewpoint is being presented despite some initial confusion, the flawed transitions nonetheless make for extra work on the part of the reader. Also worth noting is that there is more telling than showing, and the characters are not as developed and they could be.
But like I said, the story is simple and should be taken as such.
Sure, “Nightfall” might border on being a beach read, but it is so in the best sense. It is a cannot-put-it-down page-turner. It may not be as detail-oriented as the “Harry Potter” series, but a similar audience will likely enjoy reading it. Plus, I would not be surprised if for some readers “Nightfall” provides the motivation to acquire technical skills such as boating or rock climbing. It did for me! As the story demonstrates, you never know when these skills might come in handy.
“Nightfall” is the authors’ first in what could be, according to Kujawinskil, a potential series. I am not usually one to delve into a series unless it has been recommended to me, but I might keep an eye on this one. If Halpern and Kujawinski’s next books are anything like “Nightfall,” they will be great "mental break" reads.
Authors: Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication date: September 22, 2015
Page count: 346
List price: $17.99
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