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Christina Reads YA

"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis

Review & Giveaway: Plus One - Elizabeth Fama

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Sol, the protagonist - Sol is an absolutely wonderful heroine to follow, and I say heroine because even though some of her actions are not quite reasonable, she's good-hearted. She loves passionately. She's sarcastic, fierce. She didn't do well in school, but there's no doubt that she's smart and independent and who the teachers (and everyone else) had clearly underestimated. You know the fiery red-head stereotype? Sol is like that, but transcends that stereotype because of the little details that Fama uses to sketch her character, like in her relationship with Poppu.

2. (+) World-building - Not only do we get an explanation for how the Night/Day divide came about (this reads to me like a dystopian standalone, and where some dystopias don't give you that information, this one does), but we also get little details like social greetings and cues (Smudges are asked to stay quiet; they nod to each other, etc.) and little things that help ground the dystopia, like day/night passes, Hour Guard rotations, and even considerations towards foreign policy issues (you really don't get a lot of explanation in YA dystopians about how other countries besides the US have dealt with the issue). In short, Fama did a good job grounding readers in the world while expanding our understanding of it with certain plot twists.

3. (+) The Romance - What I really liked about the romance in Plus One was how past and present were intertwined, how D'Arcy and Sol became friends before they came anything else. In the present, it's a sort of hate-turned-love story; a lot of mistrust and misunderstandings in the beginning, but they slowly fade as D'Arcy helps Sol with her plan and Sol shows D'Arcy another world, one that makes him question how he's living his entire life. The romance was good at facilitating D'Arcy's character growth (in addition to Sol's) and combined both slow-burn and quick intensity. And honestly, I thought the premise behind the past aspects of Sol and D'Arcy knowing each other was one of the cutest things. Another favorite part? The amount of respect D'Arcy had for Sol and the way the non-clean parts were handled.

4. (+/-) Plot - I think the thing I could not get over while reading this book was the overall plot. That so much of it had focused on a babynapping. Individually when I consider the plot elements, they don't seem too unbelievable (especially given that Sol is an impulsive teenager and what teenager doesn't do at least one stupid thing in her lifetime?), but when I put them all together, maybe it is the novelty that I had a hard time dealing with. But there are lots of plot twists and this book definitely kept my attention with all the tension. It's a rare book that alternates between flashbacks and the present in a way that manages not only to keep the tension high but also furthers world/plot/character/etc. development.

5. (+/-) Premise - I knew what the premise was going into this, and I stick by what I said on the world-building and Fama's details. But, I think this is like my issue with the plot. I don't think I could buy into the explanation given for the world because I didn't get the impression that this divide was especially effective, as it had claimed to be. I understand that's part of the point - and this is a dystopia, there are people fighting against the divide taking that very stance - but it felt like too much of a balance between metaphor for class/race differences and actually fitting the explanation given (for example, in college I had classes at night; are those moved to day now too? how can you physically fit all the educational options into day/night divides? why does (most of) the rest of the world follow the US's model when they don't have the same social systems? do they also censor texts? etc.).

6. (+) Themes - I particularly loved how well Plus One incorporated its metaphor for civil liberties (particularly all the people Fama cited in the acknowledgements for Hastings's speech! Loved knowing about the influences there). I loved how she discussed privilege and the class differences and the way all of that tied into the character decisions. And you know how some YA books don't particularly seem YA? Like what the protagonist's arc doesn't feel relevant to a teen? This felt solidly YA as Sol learned to balance between what was most important to her and what was right; as she learned of love, loss, and sacrifice, and more about her own family, her world, and her principles. 

7. (+) Characters - This is a random segment, but I loved how Fama included French into this novel. French is an integral part of Sol's relationship with Poppu and Ciel; and also later with D'Arcy. The US is a nation of immigrants. My family has always spoken Arabic and English, and it's quite shocking to me how so few YA novels incorporate this little detail into familial depictions. (Also nerd me was happy that I still knew some French... and knew just how well Fama had captured the nuances in the language). Anyway, Ciel's depiction from larger-than-life icon to fallen hero to brother again was wonderful and so realistic to real life: when everyone starts to have their own lives and responsibilities and where-did-time-ago? Sol's relationship with her grandfather was also heart-breaking. I loved the contrast between her family and D'Arcy's. The characters reached that place where they had a lot of potential and though I didn't know everything about them, I felt like they were real and their motives tangible.

8. (+) Writing - I want to read more of Fama's work. There's a certain smoothness and flow to her writing... and the descriptions are quite gorgeous, especially when it comes to life truths (“The thing is, when you’re with someone like Poppu - someone who sees straight through your battered facade and loves every bit of you, someone who makes you laugh until you pee your pants, someone who grabs you in a hug exactly when you need it - you don’t crave any kind of approval from strangers. You don’t need to 'matter' in the world, because you already matter to the only person who counts.”)

9. (+) Pacing - I already mentioned how well the intertwining of past and present was done, and that's because Fama keeps her past segments short so that we're focused on the action in the present. (And also ends chapters with quite the cliffhangers).

10. (+) Cover - I still really love this cover, the simplicity of its colors and its beautiful depiction of the romance (although this cover made me think of an issue I had: how is it that people can differentiate between Rays and Smudges to begin with? Besides passes & the phones - at birth, can the entire system be taken down if the Day/Night nursery divides aren't followed?).

As a standalone dystopian adventure (set in Chicago), Plus One distinguishes itself because its plot doesn't go for the stretched out epic trilogy sorts of ramifications but stays localized to one girl and one guy and their families. There are political machinations, moral implications, and some twisty reveals, but in the end, you're not distracted by how one sixteen-year-old manages to be the face of a revolution. It's also a beautifully written, romantic and thought provoking novel, and I hope that it attracts the audience it deserves.