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Above

Review

Above

What if people who were different were classified as sick, hidden away, or worse, so that "normal" people wouldn't have to look at or deal with them? What if a group of these misfits created their own society, one where loyalty and shared protection was more important than conformity?

That, in part, is the premise of ABOVE, Leah Bobet's debut novel. Of course, it's also an imaginative urban fantasy and a heartrending romance between two deeply damaged souls.

"It's hard to believe that ABOVE is Bobet's first novel. The combination of realistic concerns with imaginative and compelling fantasy elements is a technique that is difficult to pull off, and Bobet does so quite well here."

Matthew is a Teller, someone who collects stories from his fellow companions in Safe, an underground fortress carefully managed by Atticus, who extracts promises of loyalty and acceptance from Safe's inhabitants each year. Safe is filled with people like Matthew --- people who, for one reason or another, are not welcome or safe in the harsh and violent world Above. In Safe, people like Matthew --- who can Pass as "normal" and so is sent Above on supply runs but, in fact, has a composite of his parents' mutations --- are embraced and welcomed, valued on their own terms and often for the very things that would mark them as Freaks Above.

Matthew is deeply in love with Ariel, a girl who disappears as often as she appears, whose back grows bee's wings every time she is frightened or alarmed, a girl who speaks rarely and trusts even less. But Ariel knows Above in a way that Matthew --- who has lived his whole life in Safe --- does not, and in a way that will soon become essential to their survival.

For a new (or, rather, very old) threat is finding its way to Safe, which, in the course of an instant, becomes the most dangerous place any of them could be. Atticus is gone, other friends are killed or missing, and Matthew and a few of his friends --- including his beloved Ariel --- are left to make their way Above, in a world that is neither friendly nor safe at all.

It's hard to believe that ABOVE is Bobet's first novel. The combination of realistic concerns with imaginative and compelling fantasy elements is a technique that is difficult to pull off, and Bobet does so quite well here. She effectively captures many teens' fear of being a "freak," of being singled out and threatened by virtue of being special, even as she concocts an urban fantasy that stands up on its own merits. Dreamy and impressionistic but with a genuine narrative pull that moves back and forth between past stories and future actions, ABOVE is a compelling debut by an exciting new talent.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 30, 2012

Above
by Leah Bobet