The Story Collector: A New York Public Library Book

The Story Collector: A New York Public Library Book was written by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb and first published in 2018. It is a middle-grade mystery novel that tell the story of Viviani Fedeler, a young girl who really did live in the New York Public Library in the 1920s. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Viviani knows that she is really lucky. She and her older brothers, John Jr and Edouard, know the New York Public Library better than anyone else. As her father is the building’s superintendent, the whole family lives on the premises. Viviani loves the library more than anything, sharing all of her secrets with its magnificent lion statues and spending her free time playing baseball in the Periodical Reading Room (much to the horror of the head librarian).

Viviani also loves collecting stories and is known for wowing her classmates with her tall tales. However, things become tough for her at school when a new girl starts. Merit has immigrated from Egypt and has fascinating stories of her own. Unfortunately, Merit is only interested in hard facts and is quick to dismiss Viviani as being a liar, humiliating her in front of her friends.

It is clear to Viviani that Merit needs to be taught the value of stories and plans an elaborate prank to teach her a lesson. However, things quickly take a bad turn. When a valuable stamp collection is targeted by a thief, Viviani soon finds herself with more problems than she can handle. Is there a way that she can forge a friendship with Merit and capture the culprit at the same time?

The Story Collector is an interesting piece of historical fiction as it paints a beautiful picture of what New York City was like in the 1920s. Unlike many of the historical novels that I have reviewed on this blog, it does not focus on any particular historical event. It is instead a snapshot of what life was like for an eleven-year-old girl who lived inside an incredibly beautiful public building. As the author’s note and timeline in the back of the book point out, a lot of elements of this story are true. Viviani really existed and did live in the library. This kernel of truth made the story feel all the more vibrant. It was really good fun to put myself in Viviani’s shoes and see New York through her eyes.

This is something that O’Donnell Tubb does fantastically. Even if you have never visited New York before, you do feel the magic of the city through her detailed descriptions. From the majesty of the library’s Main Reading Room to the excitement of trying to catch the ring on the Central Park carousel, the city really does come alive on the page. The author’s note shows that a lot of effort was put into researching the period (although she does also acknowledge a couple of minor anachronisms). The only part of the novel that I felt was a little weak were some of the literary references. Viviani is very well-read for an eleven-year-old and does use analogies from works that would have been popular at the time. Some of these, such as Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, are likely to go over the head of the target readers.

Yet, The Story Collector did carry a nice message about the importance of stories. Although I felt that it was never fully explained what Viviani meant when she called herself a “story collector”, it’s hard to deny that this book is a true love letter to literature. Over the course of the novel, Viviani learns the subtle distinction between telling tall tales and lying. In doing so, she discovers that there is a time and place for everything. While creativity is wonderful, it can’t solve all problems and so there is always a need for cold logic. On a moral level, she also learns that it’s not nice to be tricked, particularly by someone that you trust. These are both really important lessons for any young reader and are delivered in a way that does not feel too heavy-handed.

However, for all of The Story Collector’s positive points, I did not think that the plot of the story was all that strong. Although the novel’s blurb mentions two mysteries – the stamp theft and the existence of the library ghost – these don’t really come into play until the very end of the story. They also don’t really provide any kind of puzzle for the readers to solve. The identity of the thief is made pretty obvious early on and they are captured by the children with remarkable ease. Due to this, the novel lacked any real sense of drama or tension. A majority of the tale is just devoted towards describing the setting and Viviani’s animosity towards Merit.

The characters in The Story Collector are also a bit varied. Most of the secondary characters, such as Viviani’s family, unfortunately faded into the background as they were never the focus. However, I did enjoy the way that O’Donnell Tubb presented the animosity between Viviani and Merit. The two female protagonists were very strong and represented two different schools of thought – creativity and logic. While their friendship took a long time to develop (and Merit’s early dismissal of Viviani’s stories was annoying), it was nice to see the two of them become closer towards the end of the story.

However, I did not think that Viviani’s other best friend was treated as well. While Viviani and Eva are close at the start of the story, this kind of fades away as the story progresses. Eva does not have much of a personality and, despite being present for most of the story, does not make much of an impression. This was kind of disappointing, as I would have liked to see Eva stand up for herself more. Ultimately, she seemed to be eclipsed by the two stronger protagonists.

I think that’s about all that I have to say. All in all, I found The Story Collector to be a bit of a mixed bag. While the novel did have a strong setting and was historically interesting, the plot felt weak and some of the characters were a bit forgettable. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in learning a little about 1920s New York, but if you’re after a mystery story I would suggest looking elsewhere.

The Story Collector: A New York Public Library Book can be purchased as a Hardback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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