11 January 2014

Sunny-Yellow Bookcase: A Review of Among Others, Jo Walton

My childhood bedroom had a sunny-yellow bookcase filled with stories about witches entangled with cakes, poems surrounding alligators in soup, epic tales about mice, geese, dogs, pigs, rabbits and spiders, mysteries for scaring, books for giggling, books for cuddling and best of all books to feed growing imaginations. As my shelf transitioned from illustrated stories into chapter books about giant peaches, golden tickets, sleuths, boarding school shenanigans and secret entrances into magical lands my favourite themes have remained relatively unchanged. I find witches enthralling and oddly associate coconut-encrusted tripled layered cake (too delicious must be enchanted) with the occult.

 I wholeheartedly believe in passages behind bookshelves, worlds through looking glasses and creatures living under toadstools, bridges and dew drops. 

Of all my yellow-shelved books two were above all others. As my dolls, barbies, trinkets and eventually books made the trek to garage for sale those two and only those, were safely stored until today where they can be found on my son's burgundy bookshelf. They are not special, there is no first edition allure to either of them. In fact, one has a publishing mistake with pages bound and printed incorrectly, and the other, well the other when I ponder a little more is special after-all. I have spent many a day trying to find this very book or at least one that is similar:  a fairy book filled with poems, short stories and songs that I could then pass down to all the little ones in my life. I believe we all have one book that has stayed close to our heart as we grow, one book that never really leaves us as we move into adulthood, one book that defines who we are. 

And so with Come Follow Me by Gyo Fujikawa deeply buried into my reading soul, I found great joy in reading Among Others by Jo Walton. I realize I am late to the party with Jo receiving not only the Nebula but Hugo for best novel of 2012. To be completely truthful I have been avoiding this book for some time. Not a huge fan of reading what is recommended by the general public or Oprah or people called Heather (Indigo Books-mega company in Canada) I resisted. Plus the itty-bitty tidbits I gathered about the book cast a tale of boarding school sadness and teenage outcasting. While Mori the protagonist does go to  a traditional British boarding school and indeed is a seemingly misfit it is not really about that.  It is about fairies.

Surprisingly, the novel is in the form of a personal diary with Mori's word intended for a reading audience. Whether her tale will eventually reach the public as she grows into womanhood is unanswered but there is a cast to the plot that one day that will come to pass.   Walton's ability to keep the beauty of this story sound while staying true to the world view of a 15 year old is remarkable. Even though she forgoes the power of the third person omniscient she keeps the reader locked tight within Mori's teenage perceptions without it coming across as juvenile. 

Questions arise as you make your way through the plot. The magic that imbues Mori's life, is it real or a teenager's overactive imagination created to help with her grief? Yes, there is grief, there is lose, and as mentioned there are fairies, very real fairies. There has been much spoken on the SF element to the book.  Mori loves science fiction, spending a majority of her time hidden within the stories of the great writers. Practically every diary entry mentions a famous novel or author. If there is one flaw to this book, it is this. At times I felt outside of the joke, not quite perceiving the full intentions that Walton was trying to convey. The barrage of titles distracts from the message especially if you have no framework to guide you along. 

The inherent nature of story-telling is the ability to share and have it mean different things to different people.  Among Others will always be about fairies for me. It could have sat comfortably on my sunny-yellow bookcase, sharing secrets with my other treasured childhood memories.


  1. Anonymous1/11/2014

    I read Among Others when I came out as I follow Jo Walton on LJ and loved it as the magic is very subtle and one could believe it is actually happened in RL.

    OMGosh a fellow Gyo Fujikawa fan. She is one of my all time favorite illustrators. Whenever someone I know has a baby I try to track down her version of The Night Before Christmas for the child.

  2. Yes, I love how the magic is so restrained, gives the book a layer of doubt to it that I loved. Spent most of the book wondering if the magic was part of Mori's internal healing process or if it was a real component of the world.

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  4. Anonymous1/11/2014

    Among Others is probably one of my favorite SF books. I find myself rereading it when I'm going through a reading slump. It also introduced me to a lot of great classic sci-fi and boosted my TBR pile accordingly.

  5. It is quite delightful, isn't it. And like you, I am using the book as a reading guide for this year, first off is to explore Zelanzy. I have a long way to go to as far as reading the vintage SF. (also from one torontonian to another, love your blog, put a link to it on Thank the Maker)

  6. I was fortunate to hear about this book just before its release on the Coode Street podcast, but other than Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe waxing eloquent about it there, I hadn't had much buzz about it. I picked it up on release day, tore through it, and then turned around and read it aloud to my wife. It is such a beautiful book, in particular for those who grew up loving the reading experience.

    I didn't read much fantasy growing up but read a lot of science fiction and it was a book that brought back so many wonderful memories. I'm glad you took the time to read it and that you were moved by the experience.


Thanks for taking the time to reading, and commenting on this post! Thank the Maker, thanks you.