In recent years, since I’ve been keeping track, there have been two books that have catapulted themselves into becoming my instant favorite of the year. The first was The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. The second was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Barrows and Annie Shaffer. The first has remained among my favorites ever, a book that I have forced on a number of people; for some reason my enthusiasm for the second hasn’t quite stuck nearly so much although I did love that book. Among Others by Jo Walton is now the third, a book that spoke to me in so many different ways that I couldn’t help but love it nearly from the first word.
Fourteen-year-old Morwenna’s life has been irrevocably changed by magic; from an early age she understood the consequences of wishing for something to be, and now her mother’s magic has cost her her twin sister and the full use of her leg. Mori, as she prefers to be known, runs away from her mother and ends up with her father, who had also run away from her mother, after a stint in a home for children. Sent to boarding school and away from everything and everyone she loves, except for her beloved science fiction, Mori struggles to find a life for herself and escape permanently from her mother’s influence.
There are so many ways in which I connected to this book. For one, very obvious thing, I lost my not-quite-two-years-younger brother when I was a teenager, and while it’s not the same as losing your twin I’m sure, losing a sibling that you’ve been so close to and grown up with changes your life in significant and very similar ways. As Mori notes, “The thing with dying, well, with death really, is that there’s a difference between being someone who knows they can really die at any time and someone who doesn’t.” This is something you learn when you lose your sibling at a young age, the person who you expected to be with you throughout your whole life as they had always been in memory, and the difference between life before and life after simply isn’t the same. Mori is younger than I was, but I felt like I understood her, immediately.
But it’s not just that. It’s the way that Mori grows as the story progresses over the year, the way that she discovers who she is in the absence of her surroundings, what she loves and who she can become, if only she can make that happen. Her journey is nothing less than inspiring, and though it might seem quiet on the outside, if you actually read a summarized plot, it has that ability that books I love best do to show you what happens when it looks, on the outside, like very little is happening at all.
That’s not to mention the fact that Mori loves books and spends her time surrounded by them. She reads mainly science fiction, but she has special places in her heart for fantasy and for historical fiction, and loves to learn the context about the stories she’s reading. I think this book would be even richer for someone who was more familiar with popular science fiction from the 70s, as Mori doesn’t hide her opinions and talks directly about the books she’s reading. For those I did recognize, her quotes and references are intelligent and certainly add an extra layer to the book. It would be nearly impossible, in my mind, for someone who also loves books to not relate to her, and not appreciate the way they save her from difficult situations over and over again.
Anyway, I hope I am getting across my sheer love of this book to you. After I finished, I simply sat for a while and thought of it, and actually couldn’t bring myself to start another book. I didn’t want to let Mori and her world go, not yet. Certainly not before I’d written this review, one of those rare times I’ve finished a book and immediately felt the urge to tell you all about it and persuade you to read it yourself.
So, clearly if you’ve been reading this, Among Others has my whole-hearted, enthusiastic recommendation. Please read this book, and then come back and talk to me about it. It’s won multiple awards, so it isn’t just me that fell in love with it, plenty of others have too.
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