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.
The cover might convince you that the protagonist of Above is a girl with wings. But while she (Ariel) is quite beautiful, the book is instead the story of a boy named Matthew, or ‘Teller.’ His attempt to remake his own ‘safe’ place after its invasion is the central adventure – that and his need to protect Ariel, the damaged girl from the cover, and his duty to remember and ‘tell’ the true stories of the inhabitants of his underground home.
But what is Above? It is more than a book about a boy and a girl. It is the story of a rag-tag community and its broken, hurting members. It is the story of danger, abuse, of healing, of trying to find a place to be safe. It is a sharp, biting, and exquisitely written story that deserves the adjective “haunting.” It is all hard angles and uncomfortable truths and dark, secret things.
The prose, though – the prose! It’s exceptional. Feeling bled through words and heightened every sense, every reaction. Above was tense, mad, sorrowing, and altogether lovely. It will be one of my favorite books of 2012, I am quite sure.
There were several unusual elements present in the story: the connection of fantasy and mental illness, a discussion of psychiatry and its fringe elements of society, a bi-racial protagonist (and how I wish I didn’t have to write that that was unusual!), and a trained storyteller of a protagonist letting bits of the tale go free piecemeal. The glory of the reading experience was in the discovery of truths that hurt and pulled and tore – forming you, and the characters, into new people.
Recommended for: fans of China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels, those who prefer a dark bite to their fiction, and anyone who has wondered if perhaps the shadows are stalking them – and why this should be so.