Tag Archives: Elizabeth Fama

Plus One

Mark,

Today is the official publication date of Plus One, the new YA novel by our frequent commenter Elizabeth Fama. I read this book in January, and just now re-read it, so I want to share some thoughts.PlusOne

I was excited to read it when I first heard the premise last summer: in an alternate version of history, the world was divided into Day people (Rays) and Night people (Smudges) during the 1918 Flu Pandemic. At the time, it was a way to increase productivity and decrease the crowding that led to more contagion. However, in the years that have gone by, it simply became the accepted way to live, with everyone’s activities limited by curfews. Until, of course, a night girl named Sol and a day boy named D’Arcy meet up.

There is lots going on in this book. On one level, it is an analysis of the kind of society that can emerge when we allow our governments to have too much control over every aspect of our lives. Just as one example, no one uses the phone any more (except to text) because “It was too tedious and expensive for the state to redact verbal conversations, and on the customer’s end, the ten-second time delay necessary for the redaction–along with frequent, irritating bleeping of content–spelled the death of person-to-person calls.” Isn’t that great? So much explained about the society and the government in one sentence!

On another level, it is just a solid, fast-paced adventure story, with chase scenes and hideouts. Sol has what she admits is a harebrained scheme to steal her brother’s baby from the hospital so that their grandfather can see the baby before he dies. Her brother has been reassigned to Day, and has not been in regular contact.

On yet another level, it is a great romance, as Sol and D’Arcy develop a relationship that has deeper roots than it first appears.

And yet again, it is also a story about the lengths to which people–all sorts of people–will go to protect the things and people they love.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot details here, since the book is brand-new and many people won’t have read it yet. But I do want to mention some of my favorite things about the way Fama has written the book.

On my second time through, I realized how carefully and cleverly the whole thing was set up. Every person or idea that would come into play later in the book was mentioned early on–even if I didn’t notice it the first time around. By alternating between sections (designated with time and day) that told what was going on in the present day and sections (designated with titles) that filled in the gaps from the past, she was able to give us the information we needed to know for the one story without slowing the pace.

I was impressed over and over at the way Fama can tell us so much in just a few words.  The first line is terrific: “It takes guts to deliberately mutilate your hand while operating a blister-pack sealing machine, but all I had going for me was guts.” This tells us right from the beginning something important about Sol, and it is emphasized by the second sentence: “It seemed like a fair trade: lose maybe a week’s wages and possibly the tip of my right middle finger, and in exchange Poppu would get to hold his granddaughter before he died.” So in two sentences we already know that Sol is gutsy, impulsive, witty, and fiercely loyal to Poppu, all of which are played out in the rest of the novel.

I liked the way that the characters were not stereotypes or straw men–everyone was depicted in fully human shades of gray. People are defined by the choices they make, and those choices are often informed by the things–and people–they value. D’Arcy’s parents and Sol’s make different choices in similar circumstances, and the results affect their children in ways they couldn’t have anticipated.

There’s more I could add, but I want to give you a chance to have your say. I will conclude with another of my favorite parts of the book–the way that Sol and D’Arcy learned to see each other’s worlds, and especially the part where Sol shows D’Arcy the Milky Way and D’Arcy is able to top that wonder by showing Sol a murmuration of starlings. Coincidentally, just days after I read that description, someone on my news feed linked to this marvelous video of a murmuration that I can’t resist sharing here:

– Mom

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What’s Coming in 2014

Mark,

I actually had some time to spend in the exhibit hall at Midwinter this year, so I ended up coming home with a bunch of galleys. So here are a few things that I’m looking forward to reading, starting with authors we’re already familiar with:

DeepBlueJennifer Donnelly has a new book from Disney Book Group. It’s called Deep Blue, and is first in a series of  “four epic tales” about mermaids. The description makes it sound like a quest-type fantasy, only set in the sea. I ordinarily wouldn’t read a mermaid book, but then, it’s Jennifer Donnelly, and also, I thought that about Monstrous Beauties and was wrong.

TinStarNext, Cecil Castellucci has a new book, called Tin Star, from Roaring Brook. Like Donnelly, Castellucci’s books are all very different, and this one sounds like pure sf: a 16-year-old girl abandoned on a remote space station with aliens, and then three humans crash-land on the station. Okay, got me interested!

GoingOver

I really liked Beth Kephart’s book Small Damages in 2012. This one, from Chronicle Books, takes place in 1983, and is about a girl from West Berlin and a boy from East Berlin.

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The Nebulas

Mom,

I was actually just looking at the Nebula nominations a few hours before you put your post up, and I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed.  Before I get to the Andre Norton award, here’s the list of movie nominations:

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • The Avengers
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • The Hunger Games
  • John Carter
  • Looper

Now, I don’t get out as much as I’d like (two kids and all) and the only one of these I’ve seen is The Hunger Games, but based on previews and reviews you literally could not pay me to watch any of these movies, except maybe Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Anyway, back to books. I’ve read half of the 12 titles the SFWA members nominated, and find it a pretty perplexing list of titles.  Most importantly to me are the omissions: somehow Margo Lanagan is yet again denied a major award for Brides of Rollrock Island.  And besides Brides, I would have dearly liked to have seen Monstrous Beauty and The Drowned Cities on this list, clearly two of the best pieces of SF/Fantasy written last year, and certainly much better than many of the titles that did make the Andre Norton list.  

Seriously, what is it with Every Day?  How is that book getting so much critical affection?  I didn’t finish Railsea, and I know it is very beloved by many, but I found the 2/3 or so that I forced myself through to be pretentious even beyond my (very broad) standards of pretention.  And speaking of BFYA Top Ten titles (which Every Day is), I just read Alethea Kontis’s Enchanted, which made the Andre Norton nominations, because it was on the BFYA list.  While I like it better than Every Day (not saying much), and while I think “Aletha Kontis” is pretty much the greatest name of all time, I found it to be virtually incoherent.  It started off promising enough as a kind of fairy tale mash-up, but as Kontis started having to figure out a real plot for it, and figure out how the magic was going to work in her world, it swiftly went off the rails.  Also, I’m probably the only person in the world who cares about this, but I really dislike it when true fairy tales (meaning folk stories based on an oral tradition) are indiscriminately lumped together the literary tales of H.C. Andersen.  I’m not even too keen on blended the European stories with English tales like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but even I realize that’s probably going a bit too far.

On the positive side of things, I am absolutely thrilled to see Holly Black’s Curse Workers series getting some love.  I can’t remember now how I got turned on to this series, but it is really fantastic.  As to whether you need to start with the first one, I’m not totally sure, but I’d say: there’s no real rush to get to Black Heart, so you might as well start at the beginning.  The other two bright spots on the list are The Diviners and Seraphina (although I am beginning to waver on my devotion to these two–I still think both are fabulous books, but whereas a month ago I would have easily classed both above Monstrous Beauty and The Drowned Cities, I’m starting to think that the flaws in them–especially Seraphina–pull them below those two titles). 

So, that’s my cranky take on the Nebulas–basically: where are Lanagan, Fama, and Bacigalupi?  It occurs to me as I finish this post that I may not know something about the eligibility requirements for the award, but I know it is not limited to Americans (which would exclude Lanagan), because I see many Brits on the list of winners.  Is there something else I’m missing?

– Mark

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Realistic Fantasy and Mythic Monsters

Mom,

I’ve been thinking about your concept of Realistic Fantasy–which you defined as novels “clearly set in fantasy worlds, i.e., worlds that are not our world. Yet . . . set in worlds that are only a little bit different from our world”– and looking at Someday My Printz Will Come’s list of contendas for the Printz Award this year to try to get some examples.  Here are the contendas I can identify as fantasy of some sort (including Science Fiction):

  • Froi of the Exiles
  • There is No Dog
  • The Drowned Cities
  • Bitterblue
  • The Obsidian Blade
  • Railsea
  • A Confusion of Princes
  • Dust Girl
  • Tiger Lily
  • The Diviners
  • Monstrous Beauty
  • Seraphina
  • The Brides of Rollrock Island
  • Every Day
  • The Girl with the Borrowed Wings
  • Unwholly
  • Raven Boys
  • Days of Blood and Starlight
  • Son

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Great prose

Mom,

Interesting thoughts.  It’s probably too obvious to mention, but I’ll still say that when either of us is looking for “greatness” in a book, it has to have a combination of quite a few of the qualities you mentioned–characters, plot, ideas, literariness, setting (my personal weak point).  Oh and humor–it is very rare for me to truly love any work of art that doesn’t show at least a little bit of a sense of humor.  But, if I’m honest with myself, out of your list of paths to “goodness” I would peg myself (the English BA) as a sucker for “literariness.”  Except that for me that comes down not to lush descriptions but to well-built prose.  Of course, good prose takes many different forms, and I love Holly Black’s practically transparent, fast-moving prose almost as much as Margo Lanagan’s challenging, dense, thought-provoking words, but nothing sucks me out of a book quicker than a poorly-turned phrase or false dialogue.  A.S. King read our last set of posts and tweeted that she “swoons to be in the same tweet as” Lanagan, Beth Fama, and Libba Bray, and I responded to her by saying that I couldn’t think of anyone else to add to that list besides Laurie Halse Anderson.  Looking at that set of women, they all have tremendous ideas, but they I think they actually vary greatly in characterization and plotting.  What holds them together is their commitment to their (very different) senses of how to manipulate language.  And looking at the list I gave you last time, only the graphic novel really fails the test of great prose, and my reasons for loving Hades have to do with other aspects of “literariness” – specifically, O’Connor’s highly intelligent reworking of a classic myth.

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Good books

Mark,

Let’s talk about books!

I just looked back over my record of what I have read so far this year, so here are my thoughts about the best ones so far:

To start with YA books, here are my favorites of the year so far:

I read Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, back in February, and it still sticks with me as one of the most interesting and original books I’ve read in a long time. Like last year’s Alex winner The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston, it’s a book  presented not in traditional text format, but rather in scrapbook format. Chopsticks, though is part mystery, part love story, part psychological thriller. It wasn’t until my second time through it that I realized that the picture of Francisco’s school was the same as the picture of Glory’s hospital, and that the logos on the stationery were similar. That sent me back looking for more clues as to what was really going on. At one point, I was convinced that the words on the boxing robe (Sergio “the Marvel” Martinez) was an anagram that was going to tell me something about Glory’s mother in Argentina. (I couldn’t unscramble it to mean anything important, though!) The book left lots of questions–which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily–but still succeeds, I think as a thought-provoking and visually beautiful piece of literature.

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