This book is extraordinary. Even just the first page is a clinic in world-building and character, and the langI will write a longer review later, but:
This book is extraordinary. Even just the first page is a clinic in world-building and character, and the language throughout is lush and specific. Completely unsurprising that Sofia Samatar has just won the Clarke Award -- I look forward to whatever she does next. ...more
This book, and this author, did a lot of things well. It's a sad book -- we learn at the very beginning, if we have somehow missed the jacket copy, thThis book, and this author, did a lot of things well. It's a sad book -- we learn at the very beginning, if we have somehow missed the jacket copy, that protagonist Chirp's mother has just had a bad diagnosis -- but for the most part it's never maudlin. There is also a lot of hope, not least because Chirp herself is so thoroughly developed. Her relationship with Joey from across the road, and her ruminations on being a year-rounder on the Cape, not to mention a Jew on the Cape in that era, are interesting and coherent.
Chirp's narrative voice is really good, also. I believed in her from the start. There are many places in the book where the voice could have failed -- or where the constant talk of birds could have become an infodump -- but generally the voice works. Chirp works.
I did have two small issues and one small confusion, though. Issue one: as the back-of-book copy says, there's a tragic thing. I thought it happened too quickly, and the actual dialogue around it felt kind of rushed and uncomfortable (and not in the way that a tragedy could make things rushed and uncomfortable). The second issue is that in a book with some really strong character development -- beyond Chirp, her sister Rachel is really thoughtfully described, as is Joey from acrosss the road, and even Chirp's teacher/nemesis -- the dad character seemed kind of weak (this may have been deliberate). My confusion is that I somehow got the impression that this is a YA book (not sure where I got that impression), but it really feels much more like a Middle Grade. But that might just be me.
Generally -- it's a really strong debut, and I enjoyed it. I thought Chirp was awesome, and I loved her love for birds. (And Joey was really great too.)...more
I find that I have a lot of feelings about this book. Overall I liked it enormously, and there were plenty of moments that gave me that punched in theI find that I have a lot of feelings about this book. Overall I liked it enormously, and there were plenty of moments that gave me that punched in the chest feeling that I often want from a novel. The characterization, for the most part, was awfully good. Holly, in particular, is someone I would have liked to see more of somehow; her voice was strong, consistent, and interesting despite the variety of circumstances in which I encountered her. Hugo Lamb was also quite clearly drawn, although sometimes he gave me a little reverberation of Patrick Bateman (or, even more, Theo from The Goldfinch).
So why not five stars? There were a couple of sections that I didn't think really contributed much. Maybe only one section, I guess, that felt a little bossy and unnecessary. Also, there were some odd name-droppy moments that brought a little too much Actual Real Life People stuff into the book, which distracted me. (Conversely, I liked very much the echoes from other Mitchell books.)
Overall, though, as I said, I thought it was very very good. It's a little bit CLOUD ATLAS, a little bit McCann's TRANSATLANTIC. There are scores of moments that I suspect my mind will be returning to a lot. And finally, the arc from first sentence to last was just spot on....more