Among Others, by Jo Walton

amongothersAmong Others is a lovely fusing of coming-of-age story with magic realism.  The year is 1979 and the main character, Mori, is 15 (I was 14 in 1979, so this story is a natural fit for me, generation-wise). She’s a Welsh girl attending a stuffy English boarding-school; she ran away from her controlling, abusive mother home after the death of her twin sister, and is now under the care of the father she’s never known. At boarding school she has trouble fitting in, is lonely, reads voraciously (mostly science-fiction), and finds her refuge in the books she loves and a sci-fi book group she joins. Moving through her year of grief, Mori discovers that she still wants to live, even without her sister, even with the disability (a bad leg) that’s her inheritance from the accident that killed her sister. She discovers new people to care about, confronts her mother, and makes a kind of peace with her past.

Everything I’ve written above is true about this novel, and would make it a perfectly good coming of age story about a girl who finds herself through the books she reads and loves. But the following synopsis is equally true: Mori is a fifteen-year-old girl who can do magic and talk to fairies. Her mother is a wicked witch, and her beloved twin sister was killed when the girls attempted to defeat their mother in her attempt to take over the world. Now, Mori is receiving mysterious messages from fairies that send her back to Wales to deal with unfinished business that will finally defeat the evil witch-mother and allow the twin sister to rest in peace.

Yup. That’s true too. Or maybe it is. What I think is brilliant about this novel is that you can read it on both levels — as a fantasy story and as a purely realistic story. There are logical explanations for every bit of “magic” that Mori encounters in the book and everything traumatic that has happened to her. Is her mother really an evil witch, or simply a mentally ill woman who abused her daughters? Was Mori’s twin sister killed and Mori injured in an epic battle with dark powers, or in a perfectly normal, though tragic, car accident? You can read it either way, and it’s equally true, and equally interesting either way. And even if (like me) you haven’t read most of the 1970s and earlier sci-fi classics that Mori reads and analyzes, you can appreciate the extent to which immersing herself in fictional worlds helps her cope with the real world (whether or not you believe that real world contains fairies and witches).

Like many books I’ve read recently, I had some issues with the ending of this one, mainly because things happened very quickly at the end of the novel and I was a bit overwhelmed. Also, a lot of hints are dropped about things that happened before the novel starts, that I thought would be further developed but weren’t. So, this wasn’t a perfect book, but it certainly was in intriguing one, and if you enjoy magic realism, I think you might like this book.

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