I have been looking forward to introducing Jo Walton’s Among Others. It is a glorious book, and not only because it is a celebration of books and readers and libraries and librarians.
The dedication: “This is for all of the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.”
It is hard not to swoon.
There are several specific teen readers to whom I cannot wait to hand this book. It will appeal primarily to science fiction and fantasy readers, but it will also appeal to others who simply love to read. That feeling permeates the book, and the fantasy elements will not put off readers who might usually scoff at them. First, the entire book is the journal of a 15-year-old girl, Mori, and her voice is true. Second, the author does a good job of parsing out the revelations, of making the reader yearn to know exactly what happened to Mori’s sister, to encounter her mother, to learn more about the nature of the fairies, to gradually question the intentions of Mori’s three spinster aunts.
Among Others has plenty of teen appeal and librarian appeal. It is flush with wonderful quotes, such as “Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”
And why is Mori so excited about books? Because she has a really hard life, and she feels safe with them. Books allow her to explore the world without being hurt by it. Books are her refuge, her instruction manual, and her joy.
Publishers Weekly printed a brief interview with Walton in the November 29, 2010 issue. I was intrigued by the implication that the author used parts of her own autobiography within the story, as well as her answer to the question of whether Among Others might be considered YA.
Adult/High School–At the beginning of this mesmerizing fantasy novel, Mori is recovering from the confrontation with her mother that killed her twin sister. Relatives ship her off to England, away from her Welsh village, hidden from her mother, to the father she has never met. In journal entries, Mori writes about being sent to boarding school where no one speaks to her, Saturday trips to a nearby village library, and missing home, her sister, and the fairies, whose advice she needs now more than ever. She writes about the books she is reading, how they compare to others, and the authors she loves. Her only escape is through books, especially science fiction and fantasy. She knows that her mother will find her eventually. In late November, desperate, she casts a spell for protection. The very next day she learns about a Tuesday evening science-fiction bookclub at the town library, where she makes friends and meets a beautiful boy who shares her interests. Did her magic cause them to appear, or were they there all along? Mori’s writing is matter-of-fact, even as she flashes back to the horrible events of the past and prepares for the inevitable final encounter. This is fantasy firmly grounded in reality. Magic does not dominate, but its potential is always lurking. The fairies are not wispy and sweet, or full of good intentions. Mori feels apart from the world and wonders if she will ever have a normal life, a feeling many teens will recognize. For anyone who loves reading, who needs books as much as air to breathe, this book is a gift. For young science fiction fans, Among Others will be a revelation.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City