The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

By Ekta R. Garg

March 26, 2014

Rated: Borrow it

A teenager trying to get by in life comes across a mystery: a young girl lying unconscious in a caravan wagon.  The teen and the girl escape the clutches of a villain.  They board the first train out of town, and they think their troubles have subsided.  Little do they know the adventure is just about to begin.  Author Jaleigh Johnson brings middle grade readers this fun if somewhat erratically-paced story in The Mark of the Dragonfly.

Piper lives alone in Scrap Town Number Sixteen in the Merrow Kingdom.  After her father’s death a few years earlier, Piper has scrambled to support herself.  She manages to get by as a machinist; the bounty brought by the monthly meteor showers definitely helps.  The meteors bring objects from other worlds, and when the objects don’t completely crash to smithereens upon impact Piper fixes them and then sells them.

During one meteor shower Piper sees an abandoned caravan.  She runs to the wagon to find supplies, and she finds a young girl lying unconscious close to one of the wagons.  Something about the girl touches Piper’s heart, and Piper brings the girl back to her house.

The girl, Anna, regains consciousness, and Piper learns that someone is searching for her.  She also finds out that Anna bears the mark of the dragonfly, the tattoo given to those under the protection of the king.  When a man shows up on Piper’s doorstep demanding that Anna be returned to him, Piper realizes the only way to help Anna will be to take her back to the capital city of Noveen

Piper and Anna make a run for it.  On the spur of the moment Piper decides the only way for them to get away safely is to board the 401, the train on the way out of town.  She and Anna bluff their way on board, but their story unravels when they run into trouble.  The train’s main crew members help Piper and Anna, and the girls find a way to return the favor.  Trouble continues to follow them, however, and Piper realizes that the key to saving Anna may rest in the truth about her identity.

Author Jaleigh Johnson offers readers a new world with interesting characters and fun possibilities.  The idea about the meteor showers that bring objects from different worlds will make readers want to know more about this phenomenon.  Piper will draw readers in right away, and Anna especially endears herself to readers almost immediately.  Her quirky personality and overabundance of scientific information will make readers want to get to know her more, and the mystery Johnson builds around Anna’s identity will keep readers engaged with the story all the way to the end.

The plot starts to drag, however, once Piper and Anna get on the train.  In an effort to build up the mystery and also develop a side plot in the form of a romance for Piper, Johnson keeps her characters on the train too long.  Despite a few adventurous forays off the vehicle Piper, Anna, and company do have to get back on it, extending the tedium.

Johnson saves a major plot twist for the climax, and readers will absolutely love it.  Unfortunately she focuses so much time on the train portion that the climax and the end feel rushed.  Readers will want some time to revel in the plot twist, but they don’t get that luxury.  Instead they will feel like someone is herding them out the exit in a power walk.

Some details can get a little repetitive; Johnson has a tendency to share information in the narration and then have her characters immediately repeat it in dialogue.  But The Mark of the Dragonfly for the most part will charm readers.  They will want more when the book ends, and Johnson’s declaration that she has no intention to write a sequel may disappoint many who want to continue the adventures with about Piper, Anna, and this wonderful world Johnson has built.  The “companion novel” Johnson says she will release sometime this year might satisfy some of this longing.  In the meantime, readers should definitely check out The Mark of the Dragonfly.

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