It is seventeen-year-old Ellis's first night at home after graduating from prep school. By chance he bumps into Jackie Cattle, whom he remembers from grade school. Jackie is a couple of years older than Ellis, a drifter, disreputable, yet with an odd charm and a disarming wit.
For the next twenty-four hours, Ellis enters an extraordinary world on the fringe of society that he never knew existed. Jackie introduces him to life at the Land-of-Smiles, a dilapidated motel where nightly a strange collection of local characters gather to drink and talk. Two attractive sisters, Ursa and Leona, the elder studying to be a lawyer, live there. Leona loves and takes care of a baby whose mother stops in only once in a while. Then the baby disappears, and Ellis is thrust into a wild, sometimes almost violent search for the child.
This is a stunning novel that grips the reader as it sweeps to its conclusion. Rich characterization, breathtaking action, and an ultimately heartwarming solution distinguish this latest triumph of Margaret Mahy.
Seventeen-year-old Ellis isn't quite sure how he got into this mess, but it's so interesting that he just can't bring himself to get out of it. "Now was the time to say a polite good-bye and make for home. But wouldn't that good-bye be rather like walking out before the end of the film?" On holiday from school, Ellis is accosted by barefoot Jackie, a distant childhood acquaintance, who commandeers his car and introduces him to Ursa, Leona, and Fox - siblings who are as otherworldly as "three sisters in a castle." Their strange abode, the ramshackle Land of Smiles motel, is a magnet for the wild and weird. Once there, it is as if conventional Ellis has fallen down the rabbit hole. His four new friends draw him into their upside-down world, and before he knows it, Ellis has liberated a stolen computer, rescued a baby, talked a jumper off a roof, had his heart broken, and learned the true nature of life and death - all in the course of one day.
In 24 Hours, veteran young-adult author Margaret Mahy candidly explores an underworld of juvenile drinking and fast driving that oftentimes adults are loath to admit exists. But many of today's teens will recognize that landscape as real, and appreciate Mahy's honesty in addressing it. An exciting rush through real life at breakneck speed, this rowdy adventure will have teen readers wholeheartedly chiming in with Ellis when he remarks, "I'm too much a part of the story now.... I've got to know how it ends." (Ages 13 and older) - Jennifer Hubert