Over Labor Day weekend, I managed to cram in one last Big Book of the Summer (my 5th!), thanks to the Take Back Your Shelves Readathon. I read The Many Lives of John Stone by Linda Buckley-Archer, a teen/YA novel that had been on my shelf for far too long. I’m so glad I finally got to enjoy this unique and intriguing novel that combines modern fiction with historical fiction.
Seventeen-year old Stella Park, known as Spark to friends and family, is visiting her brother, Dan, in New York City. It’s the first time she’s been outside of the UK (except for a day trip across the English Channel), and she’s excited to visit Dan, who’s been enjoying his internship in NYC. While there, she is introduced to John Stone, Dan’s employer who also provided a charitable scholarship for him to attend private school. She feels an instant connection with this man she’s never met before, and he invites her to work at his home in the UK in a summer job, organizing old historical documents and journals for him. Spark accepts and heads to Suffolk at the start of summer break.
Spark’s chapters alternate with chapters about John. He is an enigma, both to Spark as she starts her unusual summer job and to the reader. He lives on a lovely but secluded estate called Stowney House with two other people, Martha and Jacob. At first, Martha seems to Spark to be John’s cook and housekeeper and Jacob appears to be the gardener, but Spark soon notices that the three seem more like close friends than employer and employees. They live a very isolated existence at the house with its beautiful gardens, though John travels for work. Stranger still, they live in a world completely removed from the 21st century, with no electricity or phones.
Meanwhile, as Spark begins to work to clean and organize the shelves and shelves of dusty journals John has, the contents of one journal are also included in some chapters. It starts in 1685 in Versailles, with a fifteen-year old boy named Jean-Pierre, living with his father and brothers in the shadow of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, and his extravagant home, gardens, and court. Jean-Pierre has a difficult time, as he is frequently bullied and beaten by his older brothers.
The novel continues in this way, with chapters alternating between Spark and John in the present day, and Jean-Pierre back in the court of the Sun King at Versailles in the 1600’s. Those chapters at Versailles bring the long-past decadent world to life, with its formal customs, elaborate clothing, and wealthy surroundings. Jean-Pierre loves to walk among the gardens and fountains in Versailles and pines after a beautiful girl named Isabelle, whose family is far above his in position.
In the present day, details of John Stone’s mysterious life are gradually revealed, as Spark begins to slowly piece together clues from what she sees around her at Stowney House, though the relationship between its residents continues to puzzle her. There are hidden secrets in this story that even John doesn’t know, so the characters are figuring out its mysteries along with the reader.
This original story was perfect for a readathon weekend because I was completely immersed in these worlds, both at Versailles in the past and at Stowney House in the present. The author weaves a compelling story that pulls the reader in deeper and deeper. Though I had an inkling of some of the secrets in the novel, there were still plenty of plot twists that surprised me. This novel took me on a journey to the past that I thoroughly enjoyed.
529 pages, Simon & Schuster