Jo Walton's Among Others is not your standard YA fantasy novel. Yes, the narrator/protagonist is a teenaged girl. Yes, there are fairies and witches. Yes, there is tragedy to overcome. But there is as much discussion about actual classic science fiction and fantasy novels as anything else - this novel is the best friend of the reader who needs to line up their next book.
Morwenna Phelps has not had an easy life. Growing up Wales with her twin sister, Morgana, was pretty happy - loving extended family, with green mountains just outside the door, and playing with the fairies in the woods. But when the twins' magic-enamored mother went a little crazy and tried to increase her powers, the girls went up against her to stop her and it ended badly, with one twin dead and her poor sister crippled. Mori is sent out of Wales to be cared for by her English father, whom she has never met, and ends up sent to boarding school. She is torn away from everything she's ever known, physically and emotionally diminished, and struggling to understand the role of magic in this non-magical place. Her only comforts are books, science fiction and high fantasy novels in particular, which she devours.
Among Others is written diary-style and through it we see Mori's struggles to find her place in the world, to find friends, to make sense of what has happened to her. She talks in great detail about the books she reads and her recounting of book club conversations are pretty cogent literary criticism. The pacing is fairly slow and since it's a diary, the narrator stops telling stories she is uncomfortable with whenever she likes, which means that there are gaps in the story that the reader must fill in for themselves.
I've said before in here that I prefer novels with straightforward narrative and an overabundance of plot, neither of which are found here. But what I loved is the reading list that Walton hands over, the dozens and dozens of science fiction and fantasy titles, some of which I've read but by no means all. After having read Among Others, I will no longer have to wonder what I could read next.
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