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Where the Dystopian Craze meets Literary Fiction
On Such a Full Sea was published in January, so we are a bit behind here. Truth be told, we did not receive a copy for review, nor did we assign the book to a reviewer. I mention this because it’s such a great example of two of the strengths of presenting book reviews in a blog format. One, we have a group of savvy reviewers behind us–AB4T is hardly just Mark and me talking about the books we’ve read. Two, the blog format allows us the flexibility to include a book we might have missed, at the last minute. Diane read On Such a Full Sea for her own pleasure, recognized its potential and recommended it for the blog. I love having smart librarians watching our backs!
Much like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, On Such a Full Sea is a genre book by a writer known for the literary. You have probably heard of The Surrendered, Chang-Rae Lee’s last novel, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, which one of my English teacher colleagues named his favorite novel of 2010 but stopped short of recommending for the school library. Too dark. Too sad. How fortunate that we can now comfortably share the work of this extraordinary author with our readers.
Ron Charles of the Washington Post compares it to 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451, classics that reflect our society back at us in a guise that illuminates its faults in new ways.
Maureen Corrigan doesn’t show quite as much enthusiasm in her NPR review. She goes straight to a comparison with the most popular YA dystopian series, and declares Katniss much better company than Fan!
LEE, Chang-rae. On Such a Full Sea. 368p. Riverhead. Jan. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781594486104.
Sixteen-year-old Fan lives in harmony with the close-knit residents of B-More, a labor enclave that produces fish for wealthy consumers. She cares for the fish in her large tank with elegance, capable of staying underwater for seemingly impossible lengths of time, sensitive to the tiniest changes in their environment. She is in love with Reg, a tall boy who tends vegetables near her tank. Their love story is woven into the fabric of B-More as if it were shared by all—until the day that Reg disappears. This is when Fan becomes the heroine of B-More, the adventurer whose story is known and told again and again, by leaving their cloistered world and venturing into the unknown chaos beyond. No one has ever walked out before. But she must find Reg, for she is pregnant with his child. Her long journey is told by the collective residents of B-More in an eerily omniscient voice. Their love and admiration for Fan gives the tale a resonance of legend, how she walked away from their predictable world and experienced the unknown. This unusual narrative voice, paired with an absence of quotation marks, may challenge some readers, but Lee’s gorgeous writing continually pulls them forward, eager to join in Fan’s great adventure. The dystopian setting, an America many years into the future, populated with colonists who have long forgotten their Chinese ancestry, works well to grant Fan access to all the possible fates of a wanderer. Recommend this to teens who appreciate literary, nuanced work such as that of Cormac McCarthy or Margaret Atwood.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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