While this is a book with fairies (or creatures that the narrator calls fairies for lack of a better word) it’s not fantasy. Yes, there’s a bit of magic, but at it’s heart it feels like a story about being fifteen, while not feeling like a young adult novel. Although I think it would have enormous appeal for some young adults – the kind who like Mori are absorbed in a world of books, where opinions on topics like politics and sex and religion are formed by reading as much, or more than, by experience. Ahem, no, I never felt any similarities to her at all (especially not when she sings the praises of the library).
Mori tells her story as diary entries, which gives a sense of immediacy rather than being told in retrospect, but somehow Walton manages to make the tone of the book perfect for adults looking back at adolescence and still making sense of it. I don’t know how she gives it, but as Mori would say, it’s “brill.”
It’s not an action-driven story, and like other reviewers have commented, the dramatic bits of the plot mostly take place off the page, before the book starts. Most of the story deals with day-to-day life in the aftermath of a life-changing event, with grief and pain (physical, mostly, but it’s closely tied to the emotional) and classes and navigating the waters of friendship and relationships. There’s a scene at the end where the fantastical elements of the story come into play, but it feels anti-climactic. I can’t decide if this is perfect for the story – it IS, after all, an anti-climax to the events that occurred before the story starts – or if it felt like a let-down, mostly because it was a bit rushed in Mori’s account of events.
Even if that is a weakness of the book, it hardly detracts from how much I felt at home reading it. Another reviewer said that, “in many ways this book is as much a love story about a girl and the interlibrary loan system as it is about a girl and a boy,” and I confess that it’s certainly added to my joy in placing interlibrary loans for patrons! I loved the librarian characters and the way they encourage Mori and go out of their way to get her books. Reading this made me miss those days when it felt like I had nothing to do but read, when acquiring books felt important and slightly desperate. If you’ve ever read that way, this is a book for you.
Also, the book should come with a reading list of Mori-approved titles – I was never a big SF reader, but I felt a thrill whenever she read something I love (Brat Farrar!)
Source: my public library. No ILL required.
This isn’t my first experience loving a Jo Walton book – I first encountered her through her alternate history series starting with Farthing.