Jo Walton – Among Others (Book Review)

Among Others cover

Jo Walton – Among Others

Jo Walton’s Among Others is a fantasy story about someone who loves science fiction and fantasy literature. New books are the most exciting thing in fifteen-year-old Morwenna Phelps’ life, and often the only reason she keeps going when she feels all alone in the world. It’s a clever trick for the book, given that it’s aimed at an audience who probably felt the same way. Of course, the audience didn’t have real fairies and magic to compete with their reading attention, but Among Others manages to thread that needle very well. The fairies in Morwenna’s life don’t work at all like the ones in books, and she prefers the stories to her reality. If your fifteen-year-old self could identify with that, you’ll find this to be a sensitive character portrayal.

The story is told through Morwenna’s journal, and it frequently pays more attention to the books she’s reading than the events going on around her. If you’ve ever read Walton’s posts at Tor.com, this will feel very familiar to you. Walton blogs specifically about the novels she is currently re-reading, and has a new one to discuss every few days despite also reading plenty of new books. Her character here has the same speed and enthusiasm, as well as also being born in Wales in 1964. The book gained an interesting subtext when I realized that I couldn’t tell where autobiography ended and fiction began.

Morwenna’s voracious reading may be a bit too much, though. I also read a lot at her age, with a focus on the classic SF from this novel’s setting, but not nearly to the extent that Morwenna does. I did at least know of all the authors mentioned, but many of the references were lost on me. And since she applies the lessons and ideas of her favorite books to the world around her, it’s important to be able to keep up. While I identified strongly with the broad strokes of her character, the details often made her seem as distant from me as a character who didn’t read at all. (Don’t even bother with this if you aren’t familiar with Heinlein. It also helps to know Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven, but you can get away with just reading the Wikipedia page.)

Fortunately, Morwenna is a good character throughout. She is sympathetic, she grows, and the tension between real fairies and science fiction stories makes a perfect metaphor for a geek coming of age. (Other characters are also well-drawn, and seem to be three dimensional even when Morwenna is too self-absorbed to notice. However, they tend to come into focus and then fade away when her social situation changes. It feels realistic for a teenage diary, though it means we don’t see any real story arcs other than hers.) Among Others is a tender story about both youth and genre literature. And surprisingly, that makes it completely unique withn genre literature.

Grade: B

 
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