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Above Hardcover – Mar 1 2012
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Praise for Above
"Above pulls off that rare trick of being convincing and utterly magical at the same time." —Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room
"Leah Bobet's Above is that rarest of creatures, combining the outspoken honesty of a good first novel with the craft of a seasoned professional." —Elizabeth Bear, Hugo Award-winning author of Dust
*"[A] dark, dazzling tale...Bobet effortlessly blends reality and fantasy, her characters are both gifted and broken—hers is a world that is simultaneously fantastic and painfully real. Heartbreaking, romantic, complex, and magical, this fantasy lingers on the senses." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Bobet fearlessly takes the reader to uncomfortable places, where, as Matthew discovers, there is always more than one side to a story." —Quill & Quire
"[A] profoundly moving meditation on how we treat the mentally ill, disabled and homeless...Above is a soulful and spellbinding debut novel." —The National Post
"A tremendous adventure, as well as a meditation on how our mythologies shape us...a gorgeous tale." —Toronto Life
"[Readers] willing to go along with this captivating exploration of both individual and collective identity will find themselves pondering its implications long after the last page." —Kirkus
About the Author
LEAH BOBET's short fiction and poetry have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, and The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award. She received a 2008 emerging writers' development grant from the Toronto Arts Council. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Overall the story deals with the story of Matthew, the story-keeper of a Torontonian underground society, and his tragic love of one of his fellow mutants, Ariel. But to summarize Bobet's tale by calling it a love story is to describe the Mona Lisa as a portrait. Just like the dystopian Toronto she creates, the story has layers upon layers. It is primarily a dark fantasy, yes. But it is also an indictment of barbaric psychiatric practices, of society's inability to deal with the homeless, with the estranged, with the strange. It is a social commentary written with adroitness and insight, and all done with an accomplished story-teller's art.
My only quibble, and it is a middling one, is the classification under which the publisher chose to list the book: young adult. While I can understand the reasoning behind that decision, I also cannot help but feel it was one chosen as an expedience, rather than a true understanding of Bobet's work and its impact. The tale is so dark, and the writing so at the edge of avant guard, that the novel might gain wider and better recognition under an adult classification.
But, as I mentioned, I quibble.
Certainly Bobet's novel is one worth your time. Recommended.
Reasons to Read:
Leah Bobet clearly put a lot of thought into this book, and it is so rich in meaningful topics that I'm not even sure I picked up on all of the ideas and questions it raises. The story comes across as being so detailed and curious, with a very particular story to share. I'm not really sure how to explain it, but overall the details all seemed very conscientious that actually blended together very well and added to the story.
I know some people who reviewed Above mentioned that they struggled with the writing; and yes, it definitely isn't written in the same style that the majority of books are written. But the way Leah writes Above just rolls off the tongue, with gorgeous phrasing and imagery that just flows off the page to meet with your imagination. It's stunning, really. But I can also see how this wouldn't be enjoyable for every reader (it all depends on taste). But it also captures the perspective of the narrator very well, and gives him a distinct voice.
3.An intelligent read:
Above is one YA book that really stood out to me as an intelligent book. It's one that makes you question norms and expectations, and re-evaluate things we readily take for granted.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is definitely one of those books that you will either love or hate. It just didn't work for me. It was really hard for me to follow along with the style of writing. Matthew is telling the story, as that's what he does, and he uses a broken down form of English, which made it time consuming and irritating to wade through. Had it been presented in normal-everyday English I probably would have liked the story a lot better, and as I write this review, the 3/5 rating that I gave the book is feeling pretty generous.
What I did like about the story was the separate chapters in which we hear the story of all of the other characters in the book. Their individual stories were more interesting than the major storyline. In the beginning I couldn't tell if Matthew was feeling love as a father figure for Ariel, or what was going on. I didn't have a grasp of what their age ranges were or what the author was trying to express with their feelings. I really, really, really wanted to like this story, but it just didn't work for me.
Reviewed by Jessica for Book Sake.
First 50 Pages: This book was very challenging for me to read and comprehend. In fact, I think it was the hardest book I've read in a very long time. It took me forever to finish the whole book and I felt mentally exhausted by the time I was done. I'll just come out and say it. I don't think the majority of people, especially teens, are going to be able to follow along with the writing style and I think that many people are going to try to read Above, maybe get through the first few chapters, and then give up trying to understand it. Let me explain more.
Characters & Plot: This story revolves around two very different worlds; The world of Above and the world of Safe. The people who live in Safe are basically refugees trying to escape the harsh realities of Above, where they do not fit in, are mistreated, and where people are frightened of them. They come to Safe to be, well, safe. It's a haven for them.
The people who come seeking refuge in Safe are basically chimeras, at least that is the way I was picturing them in my head. Each character has one or multiple unique attributes that make them very different from everyone else, with some attributes being more obvious than others. The ones with no physical irregularities are called Sick, and some are able to pass for being normal. Others have no way of hiding what they are, like Ariel and her wings or Atticus who has crab claws instead of hands. Regardless, they are all looking for shelter from a very harsh world. Nobody really knows why these people are different and nobody really explains it either. It is just the way that they are.
What I liked about this is the message that it sent. That is okay to different and that not everyone has to be exactly the same. That there is no such thing as being normal and that people who are different shouldn't be treated different just because they aren't the same. Being different doesn't mean that a person doesn't have feelings and emotions. The author really drives these basic themes home in the book, which will make you step back and examine how you treat people who you view as different. I use to work with children with disabilities. It always amazed me how awful some people would treat those kids just because they were different. For those reasons, this book is wonderful, if you can get past the challenging writing style.
And it was a very difficult writing style. Matthew was our main character and the story is told from his point of view. Matthew speaks very differently in his thoughts and out loud. There is no rhyme or reason to his language and all of the basic rules of English are broken. There are missing punctuation marks, fragmented sentences, inappropriate use of verbs, inappropriate capitalization, and so on. Many times I had to go back and reread a section multiple times just so I could understand what Matthew was trying to say or what he was thinking. This isn't a terribly long book, but by having to reread just about everything, it took me twice as long to read Above then it would have if it were...normal. This was an intentional act from the author to coincide with the themes and messages of this book. It's not going to be for everyone. Some people will hate the way this book is written.
Final Thoughts: I really hope that people will be able to appreciate the complexity of this novel and at least attempt to read it. Leah Bobet is a fantastic writer, and I hit the nail on the head with my basic first impressions of this novel. The whole story really does take the mental institution thing to a higher level. After I had finished the book, I sat down and thought about it quite a bit. I think that Above will be very unappreciated, which is a shame. I do think that this book isn't appropriate for a younger teen because of some violence and harsh language. If you are on the fence about reading this one, try to find it in your local library first before purchasing it just in case the writing style bothers you.
Above is written from the first person prospective of Matthew, an uneducated mutant who has lived much of his life in the isolated underground community known as Safe. And the writing style fully reflects Matthew's thought process. Written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, Above's style reads like a broken translation of another language from a not-well-versed translator. It's incredibly difficult to read or fully comprehend, and there is so much slang used here (without much of an explanation) that's it hard to understand what's going on for the first 50 or so pages of the book. I found myself re-reading several passages just to get a sense of what the slang meant based on the context. There were some things that I didn't fully understand for the duration of the entire novel.
This really affected the setting as well. It was impossible for me to get any sense of where the characters were, or what they world they lived in was like. I got that they were different, which was bad, but there didn't seem to be any more depth beyond that. It just really bugged me that I couldn't see the world or the characters at all.
Which brings me to some of the redeeming qualities of this book: the characters and the unique storytelling. (Reading this book wasn't a complete waste, by the way, but really frustrating and confusing.) This book is set up in a unique way. Instead of just following a singular plot line, the protagonist shares the stories of the other characters, which made them come alive and made this story about each character's individual struggles for acceptance, rather than the overarching plot. I found this approach refreshing, though somewhat disjointed.
Above certainly wins points for originally and for excellent characters, but really lost me with the style. Try at your own risk, but be warned...
First things first: people, get over yourselves. This book was not hard to read. Try reading the first part of The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner and then come back to this book and tell me it's hard to read. If the "slang" is a problem, try reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and tell me THAT isn't confusing. Tell me Finnigans Wake by James Joyce isn't hard to read. I'm sure there are numerous other books to put here that have a rather challenging narrative. (And if you're asking, yes, I have read all of those books...or at least tried. Finnigans Wake was too much for me!) If the reason you pass this book is because of the reviews saying it was too hard to understand, don't. Yes, it's written in Matthew's point of view, and Matthew does have a very interesting point of view. But the way he tells the story isn't difficult to get through. When you read this, know that it's not all told to you upfront. Things will be explained. The book isn't written in usual prose, but it certainly wasn't enough to stop me from enjoy the story. Think of a ten-to-twelve year old telling a story (even though Matthew is around seventeen or eighteen, I believe). Comparing it to A Clockwork Orange, I mostly understood what Matthew would say in Above versus having to look up various bits of slang that Alex would pepper in his narrative in ACO because it sometimes would get to the point I would have to look up the word because I couldn't understand it in context. In Above, you do not need a glossary, you just need to pay attention to context clues. Matthew will usually explain what some items are as well, which helps.
It comes back to the fact that this is a fantastic story. This is a world where people are Sick, meaning anywhere to having giant crab claws for hands to being able to kill people with a touch. And the Sick people, they didn't like how they were treated Above - in the world we would recognize - so they escaped and made their own world, Safe. Matthew was born in Safe. Matthew also happens to be a Teller, which means he gathers the stories of the people of Safe and tells them, may it be through words or wood, since he happens to be a gifted carver. One day, Safe is in peril, and the inhabitants that aren't trapped below have to escape to Above and find out what happened and how to get their Safe back. This, of course, is a VERY simple explanation to a very intense, amazing story that I'm surprised doesn't have more reviews. It is a rich world with wonderful characters, most of which get fleshed out with an interesting backstory of how they found out they were Sick and ended up in Safe. (I personally didn't like Ariel for most of the book, but you eventually get her entire story, which makes rounds her out and made her more sympathetic in my eyes.) Remember what I said, how the story will fill it in? It does wrap all of its questions up relatively nicely. There's no gaping plot holes to get lost in that took me away from the book.
The story is told in a unique manner, but if you let yourself go a little and just read, you should be able to pick up on enough things that it shouldn't get frustrating and you should be able to enjoy it. Sometimes I didn't know what was meant by a certain word, but you figure it out. The story will give you clues. Yes, there are words made into proper nouns, but we as the reader have to understand it is because they are important words to Matthew. When everyday words are put into a proper status, it is because the author is making us take notice and think about them. Like I said, we are reading in Matthew's voice. Even though Matthew is almost an adult by our standards, you have to read it like a child wrote it. There's a sentence in the beginning chapter that reads, "I've told-asked-begged her to stop running." I loved how that read; it's a very childlike thing to say, but you can imagine what he means perfectly. If you are going to get so caught up in the way the story is told, then this book is not for you. It does lag a bit when the story goes Above, but the Doctor Marybeth character was certainly interesting enough to keep my interest. (The good doctor knew the characters who founded Safe from the hospital she interned at, and she was one of my favorites in the story.) Like I said, the parts concerned with Ariel lagged for me because I didn't prefer her character, but it wasn't enough to bog the story down for me. Then again, I'm one of those people who will skim the parts I don't like and then go back and read them. The world building was good enough in my eyes that I could see it in my mind, but the characters are what really pull this story together for me and make it shine.
My advice? Lose yourself in the story. Put aside your annoyances for reading something grammatically perfect and lose yourself in this book. It's worth it. Once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. This author has a wonderful gift and I'd ask you to take part in it. I can't wait to see what else she has to write.
Quick & Dirty: Unfortunately, disjointed exposition distracts from the potential of a beautiful story.
Opening Sentence: My last supply duty before Sanctuary Night, I get home and Atticus is waiting.
Safe is an underground sanctuary where people who can't fit in Above go to feel Safe. Everyone who lives in Safe has an ability of some kind or another. Matthew is a Teller, he has the ability to remember the stories of those who come to Safe and can create artwork with the tales. Matthew is also "different" but he can fit in Above. He was born in Safe and has only ventured Above a few times in his life. He has been taught to be afraid of the world and the people that inhabit Above.
Matthew finds Ariel hiding in the tunnels on one of his ventures to go above ground. He takes it upon himself to take care of her and make sure she stays safe. When Ariel is upset she grows bee's wings and she gets upset a lot. There are a lot of discarded wings decorating their room in Safe. She can also shrink into the size of a bee. Matthew is in love with Ariel but she has been severely hurt in her life and is very skittish and shy towards people. Ariel runs away and when Matthew goes to find her he is confronted by Corner, an exiled member who once lived in Safe.
Sanctuary Night is the night where everyone who lives in Safe swears fealty and pitches in to the well-being of Safe. Right before the festivity is to begin, Matthew goes to find the leader Atticus. Atticus is killed by Corner when he decides to take over Safe and attacks everyone within its' shadow army. Matthew, Ariel and a few survivors are forced Above to get away from the Shadows. Matthew and Ariel make it to one of the Safe houses that have been pre-arranged in case Safe was attacked. Matthew has to learn to Pass Above while trying to find other survivors of Safe all the while trying to make sure Ariel stays out of trouble. While Above Matthew learns the history of Safe and its inhabitants along with Ariel's past.
Above is told purely from Matthews' viewpoint. He mentions that this is his memoire of what happened with Safe and his love of Ariel. Matthew is uneducated and the story reflects this. The writing style is perfect for Matthew but it is very distracting and at times it is difficult to follow. There are words that are missing and words that are made into proper nouns that are just used over and over again in one sentence. I like artistic writing sometimes but I had a hard time following along with the story. I kept having to reread sentences and paragraphs trying to figure out what the author meant by using a certain word.
Some examples of the writing style:
*"That's when you saw her change," I say, because I know that look from Tales, the kind where people stare five feet into the distance for the Telling and you need to help to Tell them, like a hand light on the curve of the back.
*I made it to the bathroom before I sick up.
*I can't tell if he's breathing, if he's going to ghosts.
*My heart's going like a subway train, and I understand for the first time, real down deep, why Whisper's pa and the Whitecoats and the girls in General Population were so sore scared of ghosts.
Matthew is a sympathetic character. I had the hardest time caring for him in the beginning of the book but by the ending I did sympathize with his situation. This potentially beautiful story did come out to a degree in the end but I was a bit saddened by the closure of the story.
Above is one of those novels that you are either going to love or hate. If you enjoy a book that really makes you decipher the words then you will enjoy Above, unfortunately for me it was a bit off putting. In the end, Above, has elements of a beautiful heartbreaking story about the loss of love and home and the fight to regain a semblance of safety.
FTC Advisory: Scholastic provided me with a copy of Above. No goody bags, sponsorships, "material connections," or bribes were exchanged for my review.