Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Publication: Tor Books (January 18, 2011)

Description: Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England-a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel
Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best NovelOne of School Library Journal's Best Adult Books 4 Teens titles of 2011
One of io9's best Science Fiction & Fantasy books of the year 2011

My Thoughts: This book defies description. It is written as a diary of a young woman. Mori tells us her story which mixes magic, books, and even first love. Mori has fled Wales after the death of her sister which she blames on a magical attack from her mother. In the attack, she is also hurt and is in almost constant pain due to damage to her leg and hip.

Leaving her mother has placed her with the father who abandoned them when she was a small child. She doesn't know him and is very suspicious of his three older sisters. They determine that she should attend the same boarding school that the sisters had attended. Mori is a very good scholar in everything except math but she looks at the world very differently than the rest of the students. This leaves her alone, lonely, teased and bullied.

Luckily, she has her books and the regard of the sympathetic school librarian. She also visits the local town library and discovers the joys of interlibrary loan. The book is filled with a who's who of the books and authors of science fiction who inform her life. I immediately identified because I had read most of the same authors and books when I was growing up. I also empathized with Mori's desire to find a group of people who understood her and was glad when she found and was accepted into the local Science Fiction book club.

A love of science fiction is also one thing that unites Mori and her father. However, Mori's world is also filled with magical thinking. She sees beings she calls fairies in the wild places and they will sometimes talk to her. She believes that she can do magic and is worried that she had new friends because of magic she did. She keeps objects around her that she believes protect her from her mother.

I found this book to be compellingly readable but wonder what young adults who don't have my extensive background in science fiction would feel about it. Of course, it may lead voracious readers to delve into the greats of science fiction.

Favorite Quote:
"How can you understand Boolean algebra when you still have problems with long division?" my maths teacher asked in despair. But Venn diagrams are easy, while long division remains challenging. Hardest of all were those problems about people doing incomprehensible things with no motivation. I was inclined to drift away from the sum to wonder why people would care what time two trains passed each other (spies), be so picky about seating arrangements (recently divorced people), or—which to this day remains incomprehensible—run the bath with no plug in.
I bought this one on July 20, 2011. You can buy your copy here.

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