Ruth Frances Long’s A Crack in Everything, published by O’Brien Press, is wonderfully, authentically, full-bloodedly Irish, and I really liked that aspect of it. Set in Dublin, and its faerie equivalent of Dubh Linn (pronounced ‘Dove Lin’, and literally meaning ‘Black Pool’, this is the Irish word which became the name ‘Dublin’; however, the Irish for Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath, which means ‘Town of the Fording Place’, as far as I remember – Ireland’s a complicated place, all right?), A Crack in Everything is the kind of book you can taste and smell as well as read, if you’re at all familiar with the city.
The story introduces us to Izzy (Isabel) Gregory, who lives with her parents in a Dublin suburb. She has friends, she is into music, she has a part-time job in a coffee shop and she loves ‘town’ – as most people who live in the Dublin area refer to the city centre. One afternoon as she strolls through the streets, she is captivated by a beautiful piece of graffiti, an angel painted on a wall (which did actually exist in reality; I often saw it myself!), but as she is sucked into the power of the image, she finds herself being assaulted. She had noticed herself being followed by someone whom she took to be a homeless man, and it is he who shoves her against the wall and steals her phone – but then, before Izzy’s eyes, he vanishes into thin air. As Izzy struggles to get her phone back, she finds herself drawn into a different world, one which exists side-by-side with the human one, but peopled with entirely different Dubliners. The ‘homeless man’ is no such thing – he is a member of the Sídhe (pronounced ‘Shee’), the fairy-folk of Irish lore and legend, and another member of the Sídhe, Jinx, comes to Izzy’s aid. Thus begins a fast-paced, emotional story which takes in the Sídhe, angels and demons, magic and myth and the fate of the universe itself – all of which hangs on Izzy’s being brave enough to face up to her true identity, her role as more than a mere teenage girl, and her ability to deal with her complicated feelings for Jinx who – as a newly-acquired voice in her head keeps telling her – cannot be trusted.
But when he keeps saving her life, and she keeps saving his, it starts to get harder and harder to believe that. And who, or what, is the voice in her head – and why is it trying to control Izzy’s body?
Dublin – and Dubh Linn – as a setting for this novel adds so much to the story. It really couldn’t have been set anywhere else. Landmarks take on new significance, and the particular streetscape of Dublin city comes alive. Alleyways and rat-runs which are familiar to me become, in this novel, doorways to the Otherworld (I always suspected as much anyway, to be honest), and it was so much fun to imagine yourself in the world of the book as you read. Even if you don’t know Dublin well, or at all, though, you can still read and enjoy this book. It’s very much set in a particular place, but the power behind it is one which anyone can relate to – the loss of loved ones, the uncovering of deeply buried family secrets, the realisation that you are not what you thought you were and that your family is not what you’ve been raised to think it is, and the shouldering of new and onerous burdens – and the twisty, complex and satisfyingly interconnected plot should satisfy any reader.
I’m not big on books with grand passions in them, so I wasn’t too bothered with Izzy and Jinx’s love story (it’s not a spoiler to say so, because it’s telegraphed from the first moment she sees him), and I did tire a bit of Jinx being described as ‘lean’ or ‘lithe’ or ‘hard-bodied’ or ‘muscular’ or whatever every three pages, but he’s an interesting and complex character, and the tattoos and piercings which are so much a part of his ‘look’ are interestingly woven into his identity, and I did like that. There were places when I felt the book could have been tightened up a little (but perhaps that’s because I primarily read children’s books, which move at a breakneck pace!) and where I felt description was overdone, but in general I enjoyed A Crack in Everything. I liked the fact that so many of the central characters are women – and powerful, kick-ass women at that – and the seamless, intelligent use of Irish myths, brought cleverly into the twenty-first century (I particularly enjoyed the use of an electric guitar as a modern-day harp). It builds well to a frenetic conclusion, and even though it is the first volume in a series its story is perfectly wrapped up and brought to a solid conclusion, while still laying the foundation for the next book.
If you’re into emotionally wrenching YA love stories, and/or mythology and folklore, and/or Ireland and its history, and/or kickass heroines, then give this book a whirl.