Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: "All the Birds in the Sky" by Charlie Jane Anders

There were a number of times while reading Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky that I thought, "How am I going to review this?"

What I realized, however, is that while the book was utterly different than I expected it to be from the blurbs I read, and there's much about the plot that defies description, I found it to be an ambitious, poignant, slightly meandering, somewhat imperfect book, which packs a resonant, emotional punch.

Laurence and Patricia meet in middle school. Both are outcasts—Laurence is obsessed with computers and technology, so much so that he builds his own two-second time machine (mostly to help him avoid being bullied), while Patricia discovers she has an unusual ability to communicate with other creatures. And while these abilities make them less than popular among their peers, and cause a multitude of problems within their families, when Patricia reveals the full extent of her skills to Laurence, that—along with the machinations of a teacher—strains their relationship nearly to the breaking point.

Years later, they are both living in San Francisco when they run into each other again. Patricia, having graduated from an exclusive school for those with magical talents (but far more mercenary than Hogwarts), works with a band of magicians to right wrongs, and sometimes destroy the people perpetrating these wrongs. Laurence works for an eccentric genius he met when he was younger, and he and his teammates are building a device to save the world in the event of total catastrophe, which seems imminent. Laurence and Patricia are, once again, drawn to, and repelled by, one another, but there is no denying the two share a powerful bond. Until the interests she and her fellow magicians are working to protect interfere with Laurence's work, which sets a chain of events in motion that rocks the world.

All the Birds in the Sky is a book about friendship, love, magic, and trying to avoid the end of the world. It's about the struggle between listening to your heart and following your head, and how hard it is to stay true to yourself in the face of cruelty and doubt. And it's also about the power of one person (or two) to make a difference, although the difference that Laurence and Patricia are seeking to make is a little more dramatic than everyday change.

About a quarter of the way into the book, I wasn't sure I wanted to stick with it. I felt as if Anders spent a lot of time dwelling on how bullied Laurence and Patricia were, and how horribly misunderstood they were by their families. It got a little relentless, and it wasn't what I was expecting or wanted to read. But I soldiered on, and I am glad I did, for while the book is confusing and a little overblown, it's still utterly fascinating, and Laurence and Patricia are such fascinating characters that I couldn't tear myself away.

Charlie Jane Anders is very talented—she really worked hard to create an entire world in this book. While I wished at times she would have followed the core of her story a little more, I still was quite interested in what she was going to do with the characters and their story. This is certainly not a book for everyone, but if you give it a chance, I think you'll agree about Anders' storytelling ability.

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