May Bird Among the Stars

May Bird Among the Stars By Jodi Lynn Anderson [LibrarythingAmazon]

Having finally come to terms with the fact that a great destiny awaits her somewhere in North Farm, the part of the Ever After (sort of a realm of the dead) that even most spirits avoid, May and her companions set out northwards hoping to find a way home. Unfortunately, the Bogeyman is still after them, and he’s got a few merciless minions sniffing around.

Worse yet, when May finally reaches the Lady of North Farm, she finds out that the only portal that can take her and her brave companion, Somber Kitty, home is located under the Bogey’s own bed. How can they possibly sneak in under his nose and get home without getting caught?

I read the first book in the series, May Bird and the Ever After, a few months ago, and found it decent and entertaining, but not particularly noteworthy. (Thus far, apparently the most controversial opinion on AV!) I definitely liked it enough that when Jessica realized book two was available in paperback, I picked it up the next time I went shopping. And I was pleasantly surprised; this installment reads much smoother than the first.

I think a lot of that is due to two things: first, having a clearly-defined cast; and second, having an actual plan of action through much of it. In this book, we have more time for May’s companions to develop on their own, so they feel less like conveniences to help her escape from tricky situations and more like actual people. Bea, a ghost searching for her dead mother, is particularly more developed in this book. May’s character was a great strength for the first book; Anderson seems to do well with characters in general, and this book gives her more a chance to show that off.

Having a plan is also very useful. The first book settled into one eventually, but wandered and felt like a lot of things were happening just for the sake of being weird or creepy, not because they advanced the plot. In this one, May has a goal—to get to North Farm, and then get home—and so every thing she does is actually a step towards accomplishing something, instead of a flounder in that general direction.

And of course, May’s development continues and is very well-handled. Now she has the feeling she’s capable of being the warrior she always imagined herself as, but here it’s given some depth. We see it as her greatest wish, but also as her greatest fear, which I thought was an interesting touch. I also thought the brief scene of her classmates’ guilt when the narrative flashed back to Earth for a time was a nice touch. May herself is still charming, and I love her knobby knees and starry-night swim suit, as well as the story of why she has her hair bobbed.

With all that sad, the book still has a tendency to build up and build up storylines…which turn out to be complete non-events. First we’re introduced to the terrifying villains, the Wild Hunters. Bogey is certain they’ll find and do away with May, and we spend maybe the first third of the book seeing her nearly miss getting caught by them. But when they finally meet, she defeats them via the time-tested method of giving them noogies. So not so tough and scary, then? And then there’s Commander Berzerko, who’s even tougher and scarier! Even the Bogeyman is nervous around her! But the confrontation is similarly brief and one-sided. And the subplot with May’s mom back on Earth, which spends most of the book building up to what should be her following May into the Ever After, ends similarly non-dramatically. While the actual climax of the book is fine, the constant building to nothing is frustrating and annoying. If the villains are actually villainous, they need to do something eventually, but instead tend to be easily defeated. Their scariness is something we’re told, not shown, and that’s just sloppy.

I have a couple other quibbles; an event in the beginning of the second book makes all the travails of the first book pretty much unnecessary, but we’re told that’s okay because “it’s the way it has to be” but not why, when it seems like the whole question could have been easily avoided. The series also still seems caught up in how clever and hilarious it is: the ghosts shop at Crawl-Mart instead of Wal-Mart! Wacky! But that aspect is toned way down since the first, so it’s a mild annoyance instead of eye-roll inducing.

Overall, the good in this book outweighed the quibbles I had, and the characters were all charming and touching. It seems like there should be more to the series, but is a decent stopping place if there isn’t; and if you enjoyed the first one even a little, it’s worth picking up the second, as it’s better. But the rating holds: three and a half cupcakes. Though better, I still don’t see a special spark in it that would knock it up to four.

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