Friday, December 21, 2012

ABOVE by Leah Bobet

Matthew lives in a place called Safe, which is an underground haven for all sorts of outcasts from society, whether they’re like Atticus, the founder who has pincers like a crab, or like Ariel, who is hiding some sort of trauma and turns into a bee when she’s afraid. Matthew was born in Safe and has scales and clawed feet. He is also the Storyteller for the community, and memorizes the stories of each person in Safe and how they came from “Above,” a world similar to our own. However, Matthew doesn’t know everything about people like Ariel, Atticus, or Corner, the only person ever to be exiled from Safe, for a horrible crime. When tragedy hits Safe itself, Matthew has to protect those in Safe, while trying to find out what really happened to Corner and to Ariel.

First off, I need to admit that this is one of my two favorite debuts this year, and I think it’s completely brilliant. I’ve read a lot of reviews for this, and the one complaint that I’ve seen the most, and completely disagree with, is that it’s confusing to read and illogical. Matthew, the narrator and POV, uses words a little strangely, it is true. But it’s the dialect of Safe, and it is internally consistent and logical throughout the book. Just compare it to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: it’s difficult to read and interpret sometimes, but totally worth it, AND much easier than Huck Finn, in my opinion. I loved the language in this, and the way they use words just a little bit differently than us. But the main thing I want to say is that if you can persevere through the difficulty, this book is very, very rewarding. There’s also the “confusion” of one of the character’s gender, but it’s an intended mystery within the story, so you’re supposed to wonder about it, and the answer we are given is perfect for the character and the story.

I really loved all the characters in this. Matthew especially, but Jack Flash, Ariel, Whisper, Corner, and Atticus were so real, so complex, and so interesting that I loved every moment with them, even when they made bad choices, or REALLY bad choices, but especially when they were strong and did the right thing. Corner and Atticus tore my heart into shreds, so there’s also that.

I’m not going to talk too much about the portrayal of mental illness, because I’m not qualified, but I thought it was respectfully done. It shows several different ways of behaving towards people with mental illness, and the characters that have to struggle with it are not defended or blamed at face value, but they are held responsible for their moral choices. There is a lot of fear in this novel, fear of “Them,” of mental illness, of “Above,” of people down below in Safe. All of the characters struggle with it, and some of them overcome it.

My favorite part of the book was the point of view: the choice of which was perfect, Matthew is the perfect person to tell this story. He’s the Storyteller, and while reading his story, we see him making choices on how to present stories, whether it is Jack Flash’s story of his time Above, or the overall story in the novel. We see how other characters perceive, interpret, or tell stories, whether or not they are true. Matthew himself controls much of the truth about the other characters, because he is the keeper of the stories. This makes him very powerful in influencing the choices of others, although not completely responsible, and it’s a very interesting part of the plot of the novel. The past of the characters is very important to the present story—they almost run parallel to each other, with important events in one influencing or reflecting important events in the other. Matthew thinks about this often and learns the importance of getting the past straight so one can deal properly with the present.

I gave this book five out of five stars.


Jasmine Stairs said...

I believe you that this is great, particularly because I met Leah Bobet and she is fabulous, but I'm also scared of it. Should I just soldier on and get it done?

Bahnree said...