Saturday, February 12, 2011
Review: Among Others
Among Others by Jo Walton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Possibly the best book I have read this year. Mori's mother is an evil witch, and Mori and her twin sister, together with the fairies, fought her to save the world--and won. But Mori's sister was killed in the final battle, and Mori was left with a crippled leg. And that's just the back-story...
It's 1979 and Mori has escaped from her mother and is now living with her father in England, far from the Welsh valleys where she has friends and extended family. She has to go boarding school for the first time--and her boarding school isn't anywhere near as fun as Harry Potter (which hasn't been written yet. But Mori, like me, read the Bagnold boarding school books, which make boarding school sound kind of fun, IF you're really athletic and social). A science fiction/fantasy fan, and crippled, Mori doesn't fit in with the class-conscious sporting crowd at school, spending the 3 hours a day that the girls spend in "games" reading in the library. She befriends other outcasts simply because they are other outcasts, not because she has anything in common with them. And her mother seems to be oppressing her in her sleep. This leads her to cast a small spell for protection. She also casts a spell for a group of friends who are also kindred spirits.
The interesting thing about this book is that it works on so many levels, both as fantasy and literary fiction. The type of magic Mori works is "deniable" magic--that is, it could be coincidence that it "works." Is it magic or wishful thinking? Are the fairies real or hallucinations (and if so, why do some other people claim to see them)? Is her mother really an evil witch, or just a madwoman? And if so, has Mori inherited her mother's insanity? What was and is the relationship between Mori and her twin, who appears as a ghostly figure several times? Does magic corrupt? Mori is cautious of the use of magic, because it can only really be used to manipulate people and situations without their knowledge.
And this doesn't even begin to touch on the part of the book that really resonated with me, personally: being 15, being a bookworm, unathletic, and the odd girl out in a world that seems populated with people who do not share your interests at all, in those days before the Internet could hook you up with anyone anywhere--and FINALLY finding people--not only one, but a whole club!-- who share your interests. A whole crowd of them. For Mori, that shared interest is SF/fantasy (as it was, in part, for me also). There is also a great deal here about working the interlibrary loan system, which Mori puts through its paces, and boy do I wish I had known about that as a teen (I should have. I spent enough time at the library)! _Among Others_ is not only an excellent literary fantasy, it is also a coming-of-age book for teenage nerds everywhere. Read this book. You won't regret it.
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