this book is charming as balls.
to me, there’s a hairsbreadth difference between “charming” and “trying too damn hard to be charming.” i have no patience for cutesy or twee, but i appreciate “cute” more than most adults. the distinction is a personal one, by which i mean “specific to me” and not “private,” and it’s inconsistent – i never know what my response will be to things like this book, which is a quirky adventure/love story with a fantasy/dystopian angle.
but it totally worked for me. and i’m still trying to understand why.
the YA i usually favor tends to involves survival elements. i like post-apocalyptic scenarios, zombies, dystopian “grouping” books (think factions, think districts), and even just “lost in the wilderness” situations. and i am willing to overlook the social simplifications that dominate those books as part of the unspoken agreement between reader-of-YA and author-of-YA; worldbuilding corners are frequently cut, science doesn’t always make sense, and you just have to allow yourself to accept that certain things aren’t going to be logical and details will be sacrificed for pacing or focus. YA tends to be faster-paced than most adult lit, and to properly enjoy it, you have to just get caught up in the momentum of the story and don’t ask questions. you also have to accept that there will invariably be a romance element. for me, these are usually the weakest bits in these types of books, because they distract from the flow and what, to me, is the more interesting storyline. i tend to skim over all the perfunctory sexual tension and the limpid gazes in order to get back to the peril, because that’s why i showed up – for the peril.
but this book is pretty much a straight-up love story. sure, there’s action, but the motivation?? the central conflict??? it’s getting back A LIGHTER from a pack of feral kids and their pack of tarsiers. that’s mindblowing, to me, that something so trivial is the impetus for the action. sure, the lighter has deep sentimental value, but it’s shocking that this is what drives the action. but this story is about the journey, and the impetus for the journey is less relevant than in most books.
this is a love story that is actually about falling in love. the reason i skim the romance scenes in dysto-YA is because they always seem to be tacked-on afterthoughts. characters fall in love because of their proximity to one another and not because of any specific merits their love object embodies. oftentimes it seems like the author consults a YA checklist that demands “well, gotta have a love triangle in there somewhere!” and it never seems convincing. but this one is very focused on the process of falling in love. yes, there is immediate physical attraction, but as the night wears on and wolfboy and wildgirl flit from one bizarre scenario to another, their feelings for each other deepen in a way that feels earned through observation and experience and lighthearted banter. they are just two kids hanging out, sharing their stories, being their goofy-yet-troubled selves without putting on airs or trying to be attractive for each other.
I can’t believe how funny she is. I’ve hit the jackpot here. If I was a different person, if my life was less complicated, if I had more to offer her than just sadness, if I didn’t feel so tired from the weight of the entire world pressing down on me, then this would be the moment I would try to kiss her.
the thing to note about that is – although wildgirl frequently is funny, in the scene inspiring that thought, she isn’t being particularly funny, which makes it abundantly clear that wolfboy is already smitten and seeing her through his love-goggles. and if that isn’t a universal truth, i don’t know what is.
and reading that quote over now, it does strike me as a little gratingly emo, but that’s not the overall takeaway from the book. in a town without sunlight, where both characters have legitimate problems and damage, the story is ultimately hopeful and resilient, and their being drawn to each other makes sense and is lovely. they never lose themselves in each other, but they shore each other up in ways that strengthen and complement instead of consume their individual personalities.
i know i haven’t said much about the world in which they live, because i think that would make it sound a little too crazypants. that thing i said before about science?? yeah, you gotta do some realigning of your understanding of how the sun works and you have to enter into this bizarro-world with a clear heart and an accepting attitude. because it’s magical and whimsical, but it’s wholly worth it to watch these two characters interact. it definitely toes the line and nearly veers into “too much,” but i think it always pulls back before that tipping point and remains just this side of charming and refreshing.
i need to get my hands on the sequel somehow, because i can’t wait to see what happens after the events of this one tease of a night.
also, more tarsiers, please!