Reading Level: Young Adult
Genre: Magical Realism
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: eGalley from NetGalley.com for review
Rating: 5/5 stars
I have pretty much loved all the books I have read by AS King. To date I have read The Dust of 100 Dogs, Reality Boy, and Everybody Sees the Ants and loved them all. I didn’t like this book quite as much as those ones, but it was still a very well done story that is a bit mind-bending and surreal.
This story follows four incredibly talented teenagers as they cope with past tragedy in different ways. The first character (and main one) is Stanzi; Stanzi believes she is two people in one body and they struggle against each other. The second is her neighbor, and best friend Gustav, who spends most of his time building an invisible helicopter. The third is China, one of Stanzi’s friends, who has swallowed herself and is now an inside out girl. The last is Lansdale, one of China’s other friends, who is a habitual liar and can’t ever seem to tell the truth. This book is about their struggle dealing with past trauma and trying to live in the real world.
Now I won’t talk about the trauma all our characters have endured, it is different for each character and spans different degrees of trauma. Discovering what happened to these characters to lead them to be the way they are is part of the journey. And that is really what this story is, a magical and surreal journey through the reality these characters make for themselves.
Overhanging the whole story is the constant bomb threats that their school receives. These bomb threats are so common that the students and staff have come to see them as the norm. Yet, still this threat of violence and death constantly hangs over their everyday lives.
There are a bevy of strange side characters in here. My favorite (and one of the strangest) was the naked bush man, who hides in the bush naked and gives out elaborate letters (like “a”, “q”, etc) to those who pass. Personally I thought he was a bit freaky, but then as the story progresses you get to know him and find out that even he has a method to his madness.
As mentioned above the story is surreal and ambiguous. The reader is left with a number of questions…is Stanzi really two people, is China really literally inside out, and does Gustav really have an invisible helicopter, or is all this just an analogy? The whole thing is a bit of a mind trip. Yet it is all the more entertaining because the answer to all those questions is yes. If you believe Gustav has an invisible helicopter then he does, why not? Or you could say that this is an analogy for a long personal journey. Is China really inside out? Sure she could be, anything is possible…or could she just feel exposed to the world around her because of what she’s been through.
In a way this is a coming of age story for all of these characters, a commentary on society today, a heartbreaking story about the pain of life and how to cope, and a magical story about riding in an invisible helicopter…really it’s all those things and very well done. The basic message is this, we make our own realities and crawl through them until we finally find the one we want to live in.
I should mention I would recommend for older YA. There are some violent things in here and swearing; so that’s a heads up for those concerned about that.
Overall an incredibly well done story about pain and reality and surviving it. The story is heartfelt, surreal, a bit ambiguous, and magical. I think this is another great book by AS King and I would highly recommend to those who don’t mind their contemporary fiction having a bit of crazy ambiguity to it. Loved this book and can’t wait to read some of her others.
This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
– You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge