Review: Among Others

Posted: March 21, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Jo Walton, Fantasy

Morwenna is an odd girl. At least that’s how she perceives herself. And it may very well be true since the other girls at the English boarding school have confirmed the points against her: she reads endless stacks of SF, she uses a cane as the result of a lame leg, she’s from Wales so doesn’t have a posh accent, and her mother is a witch.

This oddity means that the girls leave her alone, which is fine with Mor, but it also leaves her lonely. And she has many reasons to feel lonely. Her parents divorced when she was young, so she barely knows the father just recently come into her life. She ran away from home to get away from her evil mother, leaving behind a beloved grandfather. And her twin sister died mere months ago.

It’s 1979 and 15-year-old Mor’s diary is the subject of AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton (Amazon). It only covers a few months, recounting the struggle of a young girl trying to simply get on with her life in the aftermath of the death of her twin sister. As a result of it being only a slice of Mor’s life, there isn’t a definite plot, no real climax or conclusion, and it just sort of ends in what feels like the middle of the story. But this novel is less about the story and more about how Mor’s love affair with books helps her to cope.

AMONG OTHERS is a nostalgic-feeling character study, told in tight and delightful prose. Mor is a girl who understands her own limitations, as well as her strengths. She is terrible at math and sports, but she loves reading–specifically SF. It’s possible that people who didn’t read fantasy and sci-fi growing up may not ‘get’ this book. I discovered SF early and inhaled it, much like Mor did. It was fun to see her references of novels and authors; her love of books is infectious, you feel her excitement about the visits to the library or bookstore, the joy of reading the strange and unusual, and about finding others who love SF the same way she does.

An engaging and nostalgic look at what it means to grow up loving books, AMONG OTHERS is a thoughtful story about magic and overcoming a tragic past.

But there may be a reason why Mor loves SF so much: she knows magic. Born and raised in Wales, Mor was a friend to the local fairies, and her own mother is a witch. But magic scares Mor, and for good reason. While she understands how to do magic, she also understands its dangers. About magic Mor says that “You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic. That’s because it doesn’t happen the way it does in books…. It’s like if you snapped your fingers and produced a rose but it was because someone on an aeroplane had dropped a rose at just the right time for it to land on your hand. There was a real person and a real aeroplane and real rose, but that doesn’t mean the reason you have the rose in your hand isn’t because you did the magic…you can dismiss all of it if you have a sceptical turn of mind because there always is a sensible explanation. It always works through things in the real world, and it’s always deniable” (pg 40). But what kind of magical compulsion was necessary to force the pilot into that aeroplane just so she could magic a rose? Even though it can be explained away does that make magic real? Mor seems to think so. But I wonder…

From the beginning we know that Mor’s sister is dead, but we don’t know why. The events leading to Mor’s injury, her sister’s death, and Mor running away from home are all revealed along the way, leaving you to imagine what a story that would have been.

Despite the book’s brevity, it’s an engaging and nostalgic look at what it means to grow up loving books. And it’s the sense of wonder–magic, the heft of a new book, finding a kindred spirit, overcoming a tragic past–that makes AMONG OTHERS a thoughtful story.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: None
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: As a teenager it's on her mind so it's referenced with some detail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *