THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne K. Salerni – Review by Carolyn Fay
What would you do if you had an extra day between Wednesday and Thursday every week? I imagine most Nerdy Book Club members are thinking: sleep, catch up on work, more sleep, and of course, read, read, read. Well, here’s a book to put at the top of your TBR list and I’d advise not waiting for Grunsday to do it!
Grunsday. Yes. That’s one name for the extra day in Dianne K. Salerni’s fantastic Middle Grade adventure THE EIGHTH DAY. Orphan Jax Aubrey discovers the extra day shortly after his thirteenth birthday, but instead of sleeping, catching up on schoolwork, or reading, the poor kid freaks out. Naturally, he assumes that it’s the zombie apocalypse. After all, electronics stop working, everyone seems to have disappeared, and the sky is a weird rosy color. However, not everyone has disappeared, and Jax soon learns that there are other Transitioners—people who experience both the eighth day and the usual seven—including his no-good, neglectful guardian, 18-year old Riley. To Jax’s astonishment, Riley is a powerful leader among Transitioners, as well as guardian to Evangeline, the girl next door, who exists only on Grunsday. But as Jax learns more about the magic behind the eighth day and befriends Evangeline, he stumbles into the middle of a plot that would use the girl to destroy the seven-day world. Will Jax have to choose between stopping a real apocalypse and sacrificing his friend?
Suspense, stakes, and action. THE EIGHTH DAY has all that and more. But for me, the most enjoyable aspect of the novel was uncovering the mystery of what Grunsday is really all about. I’ve been debating with myself about how much to reveal in this review, and I’ve decided, as Riley does with Jax, to keep the reader in the dark. It is a discovery you will want to savor on your own as you learn along with Jax. Salerni does an impressive job of layering in the back story without letting it take over the narrative. If you are familiar with the underlying legend, you will enjoy the deft way Salerni weaves it into the contemporary world. (If you are familiar with the underlying legend and are a geek like me, you will shriek with delight.)
But even if the magic behind Grunsday doesn’t make you squeal, there are plenty of reasons to rush out and get this book into the hands of Middle Grade readers. The most notable reason is what Salerni does with the character of Jax. Here is a boy, recently orphaned, who learns that he suddenly has access to an extra 24 hours. And, because a lot of well-meaning adults and authority figures neglect to give him the information he needs, Jax must sort out his place in this world all on his own. You don’t need to be an orphan or a Transitioner to identify with Jax’s plight. Moreover, Salerni is careful to let Jax learn, sometimes painfully, that people are three-dimensional. The good guys have their flaws. The bad guys have their reasons. Jax’s journey is to process the information he gleans about people and make up his own mind about whom to trust.
How Jax makes up his mind, and how this action-packed adventure concludes, is enormously satisfying.
I’d place THE EIGHTH DAY on the upper end of Middle Grade because of the intensity and complexity of the plot, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put this book in the hands of young readers who can handle life and death action. My nine-year old grabbed it out of my hands the minute I finished it and devoured it. (She knows what the geeky shrieks of delight mean.) Reading THE EIGHTH DAY is almost like experiencing an extra day of the week—the rich layering of story and legend makes the novel feel expansive beyond its 309 pages. There is even an extra viewpoint. Occasionally we see events from the eighth-day perspective of Evangeline. Salerni has left herself plenty of room to grow the characters, and the main trio—Jax, Riley, and Evangeline—will appeal to both girls and boys.
Fortunately, Salerni has also left plenty of room for THE EIGHTH DAY to grow as a series. The sequel, THE INQUISITOR’S MARK, just came out in January 2015. (Cue geeky shriek!) Now if only I had a Grunsday in which to read it…
Carolyn Fay would spend every Grunsday reading, writing, and eating chocolate in the hopes that the Eighth-Day magic doesn’t recognize calories. She writes fiction and non-fiction for children’s magazines including Highlights for Children, Calliope, and Dig. Her current project is a Middle Grade fantasy novel about an extreme introvert. Find her online at http://www.carolynfay.com or on Twitter at @feecaro.