Monday, April 16, 2012

[Lisa's Take] Among Others by Jo Walton

I’ve been struggling with my review of Among Others for several weeks. I consumed it in a single weekend, and it was just… so much more than I expected out of a young adult fantasy novel by Jo Walton. I’ve enjoyed her other books, but Tooth & Claw was really just merry Victorian fluff, and the King’s Peace was well executed, but slightly dull and sedate.

Among Others, though... what do you even label it? The back-cover blurb doesn’t do it any sort of justice – a girl at boarding school who can talk to faeries? Really? No. That’s not what it is. It is an ode to science fiction and fantasy literature. It is a commentary on the resilience of youth, and the ways in which young people should not be dismissed. It is a discussion of the strength of women, and a firm statement that flies in the face of the “beautiful princess needs a prince charming to rescue her” trope. It is a frank look at budding sexuality. It is real, it is good, and it should be required reading for every geeky teenage girl from age 13-21.

I don’t know what else I can say except to say how much I admire Jo Walton for writing and publishing this work of art – it is exactly the sort of literature we need at a time when it feels like there is an active push from certain governmental parties to belittle women, our strength, our capability, and our ability to govern ourselves, mind and body. Maybe I’m letting current events color my reading too much, but I feel that Among Others couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

It occurs to me that talking about feminism and politics doesn’t paint Among Others as the most enjoyable read; but that’s part of the magic. For all of the Big Ideas that it covers, it is still a delight to consume. Anyone who has been reading sci-fi and fantasy since childhood will chuckle their way through this book, elated by a character who is discovering the same books the reader enjoyed when they first started braving the literary genre. Weighty Issues aside, Among Others has excellent pacing, lovable characters, and a fantastic story.

Ignore the silly cover, ignore my rambling – Among Others was nominated for a Hugo for a reason. Go read it now, in one sitting if you can manage it.