Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What we're reading: A. S. King

A. S. King is an interesting author. Some love her, some not so much, but everyone has to give her props for writing an intriguing tale. We read Please Ignore Vera Dietz in high school book club last year, and the club rated it a 7 out of 10, which wasn't their highest rating but was definitely respectable. Anarda raved about Ask the Passengers back when it came out, and she also gave a high rating to Reality Boy, although she warned us about how crass it was in places! King has a new book coming out soon (she's an amazingly consistent writer, seeming to release one every year in the fall), described as surrealist fiction, called I Crawl Through It, which we will definitely buy for the teen collection. So I decided that, before the new one arrives, I should read the latest: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future.

Glory O'Brien is in stasis. She's about to graduate high school, but has no plans. Her mother committed suicide when she was four years old, and because everyone around her has refused to talk to her (or listen to her) about it, she has never really gotten past it. She knows her father loves her, but ever since her mother's death he has thrown himself into his work and absentmindedly done the minimum he needs to do to raise her. She has one friend, and one night they do something foolish that awakens a strange power in both of them: the ability to see a person's infinite past and future. When she looks at people, she sees their ancestors, and she sees their destinies, and what's coming in our future she doesn't like one bit. Glory writes down everything she sees, hoping that she can make a difference for others, even if her own future is murky.

I loved this book--it had the right amount of magical realism and quirkiness to make the basic issue of a teen girl grieving over her mother interesting and fresh. I liked how it roamed around, via Glory's mind, embracing big topics like freedom and feminism and small topics like wardrobe and love life. I believed Glory's outsider status and empathized with it, and I also understood the part where she realizes that her best friend Ellie is only her best friend because of proximity. How many of us have made friends with someone on the playground at five years old and kept them as friends thereafter, despite the obvious incompatibility, simply out of obligation or sheer inertia? Some friendships just have a shelf life, which Glory realizes about hers with Ellie.

King has a gift for delineating characters simply by telling you, for instance, what they're wearing and why. It's a subtle, delicate method of characterization that I particularly enjoy.

The ratings for this book on Goodreads were all over the place--from 5 out of 5 down to the 2s. I think the problem was that the magical realism confused some people: The "seeing the future" part of the book was so creative and weird, but the people who gave it bad ratings because "that couldn't happen" were missing the whole point. I will concede that it's probably not a book for everyone. You have to be willing to suspend disbelief and go with the premise.

King's books often seem to celebrate a moment in a character's life. Sometimes not a lot happens--but the momentum of the stories comes from watching her characters confront the moment, work out what to do, and articulate why they will make those choices. Sometimes we don't even get to see the final consequences, but that's okay. The synopsis of this book sounds like Glory's life is a great big fat negative--but despite all that, I left this book with a hopeful feeling, and that's how I like a book to end, so a big thumbs up from me.

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