the archived by victoria schwab

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost, Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself may crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

This is one of my all-time favorite books, and it has earned a spot in the re-read shelf (I’m kidding, I don’t actually have a re-read shelf, but it’s the thought that counts).

First of all, the idea of people being kept as files in a sort of library after they die is such a cool and interesting concept. It’s very original and I’ve never seen any other versions of this idea (which is a feat in itself in the current YA world), and the whole thing with people having their own noise, like an identifying trait, is so fun to think about. Throughout the whole book I kept asking myself, if I was part of this story, what would my noise be? It would be so cool if we could touch people and hear them, what their minds and souls sound like…

I could not set the book down, mostly due to the fact that Schwab’s descriptions are so relatable. They’re straightforward, don’t drag you around in circles, but she uses just the right words that make it easy to picture the people and situations. The whole plot flows so well, it all feels like puzzle pieces that just slide into place. Also, I give so many props to Schwab for the world building of the Archives without slowing down the plot. It’s a very different idea and a complicated thing to explain (seriously, try explaining the plot of this book to someone in a continuous manner. It’s hard.) but she manages to slide the reader right into the main character’s life with no lurches, weaving memories of the character’s past between chapters without taking back from the plot.

But everyone knows there’s no story without characters, so let’s put two special people up on stage: Mackenzie Bishop and Wesley Ayers. Mackenzie is very much herself, as in, as much as she has all the normal teenage insecurities, she has a strong personality and doesn’t take any crap from anyone. But she is very impulsive, and tends to get in trouble because of that (Wesley likes to think he’s a badboy, but Mac gets in a lot more trouble than he does). Mackenzie struggles a lot with the lies she has to tell because of her job and this ends up being a stepping stone for some inevitable character development. And then, there’s the lovely, spiky-haired Wesley. I really love how uncommon he is, viciously dodging male-protagonist stereotypes, and rocking the whole eye-liner-dark-clothes look. He acts like he’s chill and doesn’t care (keyword: acts), but he’s just a teenager-shaped puppy. Well… a puppy with a black belt and a really big stick (*Wesley’s voice* IT’S A BO STAFF). During the story, I kept finding myself concerned for them because of all the wounds and scars, but then I thought to myself “Wait a second, this is a YA novel. Teenagers have an enormous threshold for pain and heartbreak.” Oh, well.

And fear not, my friends, this is not the kind of book that puts the main characters in the spotlight and then kicks the others to the curb. This book is essentially a people book, as in, the characters and stories sprout from human relationships and rotate and weave between them, so the other characters are just as well developed as Mac and Wesley. For example, I am forever in love with Mackenzie’s grandfather…from the very beginning he’s established as such a big part of who Mac is, and I can picture him perfectly, from his stubbornness, to his Louisiana accent, to his Keeper scars. You can feel what Mackenzie feels for him, just as much as you can feel how much she loves her little brother, Ben (who, by the way, reminds me so much of my own younger brother), and as much as her impulsiveness annoys me, I found myself relating to Mac.

If you’re looking for a book about people, difficult decisions, a whole lot of inexplicable stuff and some hella cool fights, this is it. Thumbs up from me and four and a half gold star stickers on the cover.