First things first, this a beautiful book. You don’t even need to read it to realise that it’s beautiful: you can tell by the way the dust jacket is all textured and pretty, with the letters jutting out and being bumpy underneath your fingers. It is a gradient turquoise sky, a stormy sea, and a splash of orange that’s like the splash of hope this book will provide for the queer teenagers who read it or have read it.
It’s a reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey, which is incredible in itself: this is a book I had read to me as a child as I lay in bed, listening, awestruck. Just like the Odyssey, it’s full of mythical creatures and adventure and the elements, and the story is driven by a hero. Francesca Lia Block even managed to capture the mood of the Odyssey, or at least the mood it inspired in me when I was seven years old: the feeling of being surrounded by wonderful things that you don’t quite understand but want to. It feels like it’s enchanted: the way the sentences are so beautifully and richly woven together and the way that flashbacks are placed amongst present tense narrative so that they blend in, perfectly, rather than feeling awkward as is the danger when an author takes readers away from the main storyline.
Reading this novel does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief – things are constantly happening and changing and they are all fantastical without huge amounts of explanation. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic LA, but the way that the pre-apocalyptic world is described does not make it seem entirely realistic. Everything is very stylised, to the extent that reading the book is like looking at an impressionist painting. You know what’s happening but it’s not being presented in a lifelike way. For some people this might create distance from the story, but personally I liked this aspect of the book, because it once again captured the feeling of the Odyssey. I’m a Latin student so I love this sort of classically inspired writing with roots that go way back to the Ancient World, but the style isn’t for everyone.
My favourite part of the book, though, were the characters. There are four friends, all teens, all queer, and between them they go on an adventure to keep themselves safe and find the main character’s family. One of the most successful parts of the characterisation was that the sexual orientations and gender identities of all four of them seemed like a non-issue: only at one point did the characters actually discuss being queer. In the rest of the book, they just got on with their lives, falling in love and saving lives and making grand sacrifices. A primary theme was the importance and value of family, which was very nice to read about in a time when YA novels are often just romances without any other plot.
Altogether it was an incredible book! I would recommend it for teens that have grown out of fairytale books but would still like to escape the real world, and also for queer teens, because they may be able to see themselves reflected in the heroes of this story, which is how it should be.
Georgie is a teen writer and bookworm from England. At the moment she’s working on a gay YA novel of her own and can be found procrastinating on Twitter (@missgeorgie) or else ranting on her blog (georgiepenney.weebly.com).