Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Review: Among Others by Jo Walton
Following a tragedy that killed her twin sister, Morwenna Phelps leaves her childhood home of Wales, the fairies she “befriended there,” and her mad mother in order to meet her father’s family and attend a boarding school in England. England is unfamiliar and unfriendly, and Mori finds refuge in her voracious science fiction-reading appetite. But even as she slowly connects with her long-absent father, explores the libraries and bookstores available to her, and finds friends with whom she has a love of SF in common, Mori still struggles to escape her mother’s ever-encroaching magical madness…
You don’t need to be an SF fan—or know much at all about SF history, really—to love Mori and AMONG OTHERS. This is a book that everyone who has been or is still a bookworm can relate to and delight in.
Mori represents the kind of bookish teenager you want to be, your best friend to be, your teenage daughter to be. She drinks up books like water and then writes about them in her journal—not in-depth academic analyses, but the kind of meandering way that most bookworms do naturally. I admit to knowing hopelessly little about SF, but I could definitely relate to Mori’s somewhat scattered comments on the books she’s finished. She’s not trying to write a SF novel or be a SF expert; she’s just enjoying herself wholeheartedly as an avid reader, and you can’t help but love that.
Due to its diary format, AMONG OTHERS is filled with bits and pieces of the sort of things that teenage girls wonder about: sex, their sexuality, people they meet, their future. It makes the book so genuine that there is no one primary plotline. Because it’s like life in that way: we have many interests and thoughts and curiosities, and they all make up a part of who we are.
I loved the bookish aspect of AMONG OTHERS so much that I was rather put off by its fantastical element, which I felt was almost unnecessary. The main plot, if you must name one, is Mori’s relationship with fairies and her crazy mother. I have no problem with how fairies work in Mori’s world: like other things that Mori writes about, the fairies are just a part of her life, just a part of her. But I do feel like the magical aspect was not the driving force of this novel, and so, in making it a significant part of the ending, I felt…unsatisfied.
AMONG OTHERS is classified as fantasy, and Mori loves SF, but it doesn’t mean that SFF fans should be its only readers—nor, perhaps, its most significant. AMONG OTHERS is, in my opinion, above all other plotlines, a love letter to books as salvation, and so if ever you love books, you should check this one out.
Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle)
Cover discussion: Oh, I love, in a gentle sort of way. I like how it defies any genre conventions and you can read whatever you want into it.
Tor Books / Jan. 3, 2012 / Paperback / 304pp. / $14.99