Review: Above

Review: AboveAbove by Leah Bobet
Published by Arthur A. Levine on April 1, 2012
Genres: Dystopian, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
one-half-stars

Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

First Sentence: “My last supply duty before Sanctuary Night, I get home and Atticus is waiting.”

Review:

What on this crazy, polluted planet did I just read? Seriously, I just finished reading this and I have no freaking clue. If this book were a person, it would likely end up in a straitjacket, trapped in the sorts of institutions many of its characters have been at one point or another. Mix together One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Dust Girl, and I think you’ve got something that roughly approximates Above.

The world depicted herein does have interesting features. For example, there are people with powers, like Jack and his lightning hands. Others are part animal, like Matthew and his scales. Some of these Freaks, those that aren’t normal, have formed a community, hidden beneath the earth in tunnels, safe from the doctors and the institutions. They call their community Safe, and Atticus is their leader.

This basic premise could have made an outstanding book, but it didn’t. The lack of explanation caused me to get stuck in questioning mode, unable to suspend disbelief. So far as I noticed, there was never once any sort of description of HOW society came to be this way. People don’t just suddenly get born with lion feet for no reason. I’m not even asking for much. Just give me something! Really, I would have been a bit more positive towards the book had their been just a sentence telling me that these changes were the result of drugs, chemicals in the food, pollution, SOMETHING.

The character of Ariel, pictured on the book’s cover, proved to be another insurmountable obstacle for me as a reader. While I can easily accept some of the curses (or so they call them) that the people of Safe possess, like wielding lightning or speaking with ghosts, I had major difficulty with the animal hybrids. Still, I could accept to some degree at least Atticus’ claw hands and Matthew’s dad’s lion feet. Fine. Ariel, though, I could not fathom. You see, she is not precisely as pictured. She looks completely normal sometimes, entirely human. However, she can TURN INTO A BEE. Her ability differs from everyone else’s greatly, and I couldn’t deal with the whole conservation of matter issues. Sure, I’ve read books where I wasn’t bothered by things like that (Harry Potter, for example), but this aspect just seemed out of place within Bobet’s own world. Why was Ariel so unique?

Matthew is a meh main character, which is unfortunate, especially considering that I still found him to be the most interesting character. Everyone feels flat and I don’t get a sense of any real emotion anywhere, even in the scenes that I know were meant to be gut-wrenching. Perhaps this stems from the way Bobet chose to tell the story, as Matthew’s autobiography, thus creating a sense of removal from those moments?

Matthew has a momentous crush on Ariel, although it’s never put into those terms. I will give the romance credit for not being remotely like any other YA romances. However, that does not make me ship them any more. Again, it’s hard to root for them when I have no sense of who they really are. Ariel, especially, does not seem to much care for anyone and would probably be best off alone.

The writing teetered on the edge of dialect but, except for one brief section, remained normal enough that I didn’t want to stab my eyes out with one of my stiletto heels. Her long (mostly about forty pages) chapters made my eyes cross. I was constantly flipping ahead to see how many pages of the chapter remained, and the answer was usually too many. Additionally, I did not care for the Tales told at the end of each chapter, a brief story of how some of the key characters came to be in Safe. The characters chosen seemed entirely arbitrary, with some important ones having been skipped and some we never even meet getting a section. Many of these didn’t add to the book for me at all. I feel like it would have been stronger to integrate them into the rest of the text.

There were some ideas in Above that I really liked, some shining possibility from amidst the weirdness. I really wish that Bobet hadn’t made this a paranormal. As an issues book set in a dystopian future with a crackdown on crazy people (like The Glimpse), this could have been so powerful. The paranormal elements detracted from the serious themes, like the abuse Ariel has suffered and the inhumane treatments perpetrated by the Whitecoats.

About all I can say having finished Above is that I didn’t completely hate it. However, I have so little positive to say that I cannot even rate it a meh. Some readers surely exist who can appreciate Bobet’s vision, but I am not that reader.

Favorite Quote:

“Jimmy was big and broad; all the better for keeping her papa away. Jimmy was seldom smiling; well, it mattered more when he smiled just for her. And Jimmy had a place down in the city, lock and key secure between her and the world, and nobody looking in or telling where she’d gone.

This is the way the Tale goes, that it’s good for a while. That there’s someone to hold you at dusk and a quiet space to stay, someone to careful, careful drag you back from the nightmares and glittering cut-sharp edges of your smashed-up broken nerve.

It good short of forever.

It gets real bad. It gets bad in ways you know on you skin, and this time you picked it. You didn’t look close enough, so this time it’s just you to blame. So it’s bad on back and shoes in hand to tiptoe late-night out the door, and no time for somewhere to run to; no time to wait for the real thing. There’s only time to go.

There’s running and running ’til you can’t outrun your skin.”

12 responses to “Review: Above”

  1. Oy, this book would drive me nuts. I’m all about suspending belief and dystopian societies but you have to tell me HOW the world came to be that way. I’ve seen quite a few “WTF?” reviews for this one, so I’ll be staying away. Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Right? I hate when they don’t tell you anything. I mean, I literally would be happy with just a sentence saying something like, ‘After the X, everything changed and some of the people evolved.’ Like okay, fine. If you’re going to set your book in a crazy future earth, you have to say something about how that world came into being!

  2. I’ve read a lot of bad reviews for this book. Most bloggers I know DNFed it. I am glad you were able to get through it to affirm that it does not get any better. I decided a while ago not to read this book based on so many reviews. Sounds like a freaking weird book, but not good weird. I’ll pass. Lovely review.

    • Christina says:

      Probably a good choice Kara. I don’t feel like it was worth my time, but I like to finish things because I know that I’ll come back to them if I don’t. Both this and windup girl I couldn’t DNF or I would have tried to read them AGAIN later. Might as well get it over with now.

  3. Lilian says:

    I was excited for this one because it was by a Canadian author (I didn’t even know until I saw it on a book blog’s Canada Day giveaway list, it turns out that there are more Canadian authors out there than I thought) and I liked it’s covers. But the lackluster reviews I’ve seen put me off borrowing it from the library, even though it was staring at me (more like ignoring me, but whatever.) with it’s lovely cover.

    “the Tales told at the end of each chapter”
    What is this? Like Delirium, but at the end instead of the beginning of each chapter?

    Are you sure it wasn’t the bee thing that made you dislike this one? *wink wink*

    The more I read about ABOVE your review, the weirder the story gets. O_O

    • Christina says:

      C. K. Kelly Martin is also canadian and super talented!

      I don’t remember that about Delirium. I know, I can see you shaking your head in frustration at my inability to remember books now. This is why I write my reviews AS SOON AS I FINISH.

      *glares*

      RIGHT?

  4. Nori says:

    I think this was one of my impulse buys with my twice a year/awesome discount days at the bookstore I used to work at. Still haven’t gotten to it. It’s definitely not at the top of my pile now. But, I still want to read it, mostly cause it kind of reminds me of Animorphs and I sometimes love weir stuff. For some reason, I thought it would be a fairy book…

  5. Kat Balcombe says:

    Bee Girl AND dialect? No thank you!

  6. I’ve hard many good things about this book, but the paranormal aspect makes me wary. The girl on the cover having *wings* puts me off.

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