Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Plot Summary:
After being unemployed for a year, Clay decided to get off the computer and "pound the pavement" with want ads in hand. Although San Francisco is a relatively small city, the hills will make any job hunt difficult, but at least the views are spectacular. On his hunt, Clay stumbles upon a small shop that sells pristine used books called "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore." Upon entering this establishment, Clay is blown away not just by the selection, but the sheer amount where tall ladders are requited for searching. When Clay meets Mr. Penumbra, an elderly gentlemen with kind blue eyes, he blurts out that he needs a job. Granted, the only experience Clay has with book retail is the the crummy job he previously held where the owner sold his own cookbook, Mr. Penumbra gives him the job based on the fact that he and his best friend bonded over a fantasy series called Dragon-Song Chronicles and he can climb a ladder. There are only three staff members at the store and Clay works the night shift.  Granted, most people just stop by to browse, but Mr. Penumbra's does have an interesting clientele that actually uses the store as a library where specific customers can obscure books from the Waybacklist; these are items that are so rare that they don't have any ISBN numbers, the pages are gold leafed, and their cover designs are sculpted intricately. More importantly, these items are so obscure, they are literally unreadable. There are a few rules about Penumbra's: first of all, when a customer comes in to the store to purchase, or borrow, be must record these dealing in a giant ledger where Clay must write the customer's name, the book purchased/borrowed, customer description, and their reaction to the transaction. Secondly, Clay is not allowed to read through any of the materials despite the fact he in the bookstore, by himself, all through the night. Lastly, each member of the Waybacklist has a membership card with a series of numbers that he must record. Although Clay does the best he can to do what he is told ( he pretty paranoid about losing this job), he can't help himself when it comes to the Waybacklist and shows his closest friends the phenomenon that are these books. With the help og his buddies, and a cute Googler named Kat,  they concoct an elaborate scheme to digitize the logs books and input that data into a series of super computer programs will allow him to create a 3D model of the bookstore and how customer transactions affect the shape. When they finish the project, they reveal an answer that will not only threaten the existence  of the bookstore, but Mr. Penumbra himself. Is it possible that the very code Clay and company have created crack the code in the books? Be prepared for an all nighter, everyone because this book is unstoppable.

Critical Evaluation:
WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!!!! I don't think I have had this much fun with a book since I read Harry Potter! Not only was my little nerd heart pumping a million miles an hour, I had to devour this book because my brain craved it so much. Bravo, Robin Sloan for writing such an original and creative story that not only resonates with people my age, but books lovers will appreciate the adventure that the characters go through. One of the underlying themes that I have discovered is that everything evolves over time. In other words, the members of the Unbroken Spine have spent many, many years trying to solve the puzzle that when Clay and Cat crack the code using modern tools, they have shown that modern methods work efficiently and effectively,  which is upsetting for traditionalists like Corvina. This book, in my opinion, is the perfect title to bring readers of all ages together to launch a dialogue about tradition and innovation. Clearly, there is a huge gap right now between the generations where older folks prefer to stay clear of technology and the younger generation may know how to code computer programs but are completely uses when it comes to common sense things such as balancing a check book or changing a tire. The problem that this younger, and newer, group is facing is that some of the older members are willing to use new tools to solve the mystery, but the "leader" of the group is not willing to employ such methods. As a librarian, this problem is an every day occurrence and there really isn't a solution unless the patron is willing to give in and learn. Lastly, the idea of immortality is what draws people into the Unbound Spine, but don't realize that immortality goes beyond living forever, physically and metaphysically.For Clay and company, their mission to copy the Codex Vitae is not just about immortality, but about solving a mystery that has yet to be solved. This book provides an important lesson that it's not about what tools, or means, we use to solve the problem, but how we solved it as a team. I really, really, really, really like this book so I think all of you should go out and read it TODAY!

Information about the Author:According to his website:
I grew up near Detroit and went to school at Michigan State, where I studied economics and co-founded a literary magazine called Oats. Between 2002 and 2012, I worked at Poynter, Current TV, and Twitter, and at all those places, my job had something to do with figuring out the future of media.
I’m the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which started as a short story right here and is now a full-length novel published by FSG and Picador in the United States and many others around the world.


Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 11 & up

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Awards & Recognition:


“A real tour de force [and] a beautiful fable...The reader is swept along by Sloan’s enthusiasm.”—George Saunders, BLIP Magazine“Part love letter to books, part technological meditation, part thrilling adventure, part requiem... Eminently enjoyable, full of warmth and intelligence.”—The New York Times Book Review“A book about passion—for books, for history, for the future...There is nothing about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore that I didn’t love.”—Cory Doctorow

“Delightful.” —Graham Joyce, The Washington Post“An irresistible page-turning novel.” —Newsweek“One of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you’re likely to have this year...There’s so much largehearted magic in this book.”—NPR

“A jaunty, surprisingly old-fashioned fantasy about the places where old and new ways of accessing knowledge meet...[Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore] cleverly uses the technological age in the service of its fantasy...Sloan’s ultimate answer to the mystery of what keeps people solving Penumbra’s puzzle is worth turning pages to find out.”—Tess Taylor, San Francisco Chronicle“[A] winning literary adventure...Sloan grounds his jigsawlike plot with Big Ideas about the quest for permanence in the digital age.”—Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly“Fantastic...I loved diving into the world that Sloan created, both the high-tech fantasyland of Google and the ancient analog society. It’s packed full of geeky allusions and wonderful characters, and is a celebration of books, whether they’re made of dead trees or digits.”—Jonathan H. Liu, Wired, GeekDad

“Sloan makes bits and bytes appear beautiful. ...The rebels’ journey to crack the code—grappling with an ancient cult, using secret passwords and hidden doorways—will excite anyone’s inner child.”—The Economist

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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