Before I get into talking about the book itself, please take a moment and appreciate the gorgeousness that is the cover of Above. This beautiful cover is what made me want to pick this book up. The Toronto skyline, the shadows and the golden highlights immediately attracted my attention. Kudos to the jacket illustrator, Nathalia Suellen, and the jacket designer, Christopher Stengel!
Now onto the book.
Above by Leah Bobet (Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic) is told from the perspective of Matthew, aka Teller, who is part of a society that lives in the old tunnels beneath Toronto in a place known as Safe. These people have been forced to live apart from the society Above because they are Freaks, people with mutations. One night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows forcing Matthew and a few other survivors into the world of Above. Matthew has to figure out a way to defeat the shadows and make Safe again.
If I were to choose one word to describe Above, I would choose interesting. The plot was interesting, the way the narrator viewed the world was interesting and the narrative voice was interesting. But I struggled with this book. The narrator speaks (or writes) using odd grammar and uncommon metaphor. I can admire the complexity and beauty of this voice—the voice of a society that is separate and different, that has its own interpretation of the world and how it functions. Reading Above felt very much like reading lines of poetry rather than reading prose. The voice Bobet has created is hauntingly beautiful and very unique—Above is unlike anything I have read before. Nevertheless, I found myself entangled in the lyricism, losing any tension that had been building.
I really enjoyed the characters in this book, especially Ariel, a troubled girl with bee’s wings, and Whisper, an older woman who can speak with ghosts. The characters’ relationships with each other and society are very complex, intriguing and sad. They all have personality. I only wish there was more description of them. Matthew’s friends are all described in excellent detail but there were other characters mentioned consistently throughout the novel that don’t get described at all. And it is 200 pages before there is any indication of what Matthew looks like, or even what age he is aside from being a teenager.
I also found the book’s jacket description a bit misleading. It places a strong emphasis on it being a love story between Matthew and Ariel. That is not the case. Matthew’s love for Ariel is an undercurrent in the story, a subplot that gets overshadowed by the need to remake Safe. It’s more a story about, acceptance, change and truth.
Bobet’s Above brings a new and different voice to the YA fantasy genre and, while it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, it does provide an interesting comment on the way society treats difference.
Be sure to check out my pictures from the Above book launch here.
Above is Leah Bobet’s first novel, making it the second entry in my Debut Author Challenge.