Last month, I decided to pay more attention to the books I am reading and to make a conscious and concerted effort to read more diverse books. I looked at what was on the shelves in my local bookstores, looked at the genres I am likely to read, and found that this “conscious and concerted” thing would often mean looking online for titles as opposed to browsing shelves.
Then, I wanted to share these efforts and review these books on my blog, prompting the creation of the Diverse YA Book Club hosted on this site! The first book we read was Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis …
…and boy was it a wild ride!
Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.
She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.
Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.
All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.
My first thoughts upon finishing this book were that it was a really cool story and I neeeeeeeeed more. Then I realized this is a stand-alone book and I despaired. Then I realized that Duyvis has another published book and I celebrated!
The plot is a little complicated and I can’t say much that’s not in the synopsis above without being super-spoilery. Suffice to say that you’re in for twists and turns in a book that, to my recollection, never once relies on cliches (a refreshing change of pace that I hadn’t realized I kind of wanted). There’s a conspiracy to murder a princess, mages on both sides of the conflict, allies and enemies. It’s a blast. Basically, I finished this book and my reaction went something like…
It is tough to write two protagonists and give each the development, arc, and time that the need and deserve (trust me, I’m trying to do it now). What I liked the most is that each of them had qualities I liked AND qualities I didn’t like, making them seem like real-life characters more likely to come off the page than stick to their own little worlds.
Nolan is a high school boy (who lives in Arizona, yay!) with “seizures” that aren’t really seizures and the way this comes to be important in the book is really fascinating. He also has a prosthetic leg from when his “seizures” got him run over by a truck. Nolan is extremely mature for a high schooler and I wish we could have gotten a little more of his personal life–he seems to be a passive observer for the most part in both Amara’s world and his own.
When I told other people about this book, one of the first reactions to “Nolan is a boy who, every time he closes his eyes, finds himself in the body of a strange girl” was “Uh…a boy in a girl’s body?” It didn’t bother me and it certainly didn’t seem to affect the story, but I did find myself wishing for a little bit more of a reaction from Nolan–especially regarding the fact that he and Amara each hit puberty not too long ago.
Amara is a mute servant who speaks in sign language and can heal–the only mage power she possess, setting her apart from both servants and mages. She has been drafted to serve a princess on the run from those who overthrew the government and she takes on the brunt of the curse that haunts her when it becomes activated. Amara, too, is very mature for her age, possibly because of the horrors she has lived through. We get a lot more of Amara’s personal life as she explores attraction to another servant but also to the princess. Her wants and needs are a little more complex than Nolan–who simply wishes to be free of Amara, even though he cares deeply about her fate. Amara has hopes and dreams–and even plans–outside of her desire to be free of Nolan (once she learns of his presence).
The supporting characters all serve to bring the worlds to life and drive the plot. It’s a very large cast because of the dual protagonists but I think Duyvis does a fantastic job of balancing everything given the length of the book.
One of the things I noticed and loved about Duyvis’ writing is how she effortlessly includes descriptions of the worlds in her prose. As Amara and her group plan where to go next, the author works in the different settings, incorporating worldbuilding as a function as opposed to setting aside time to describe it and take us out of the action. As I’ve said before, these characters–despite wanting a little more development from each main character–come to life and I needed each of them to have a happy ending. Each act is incredibly well-paced but also gripping, surprising, intriguing, and occasionally harrowing.
Basically, I am SO looking forward to reading another of Duyvis’ books!
You know I hate the star system but I’d have to give this book 4.5 stars out of 5 because I couldn’t put it down and it left me wanting more. Regardless of any issues I may have with a book, that is a hallmark of great writing and deserving of high marks.
So check out Otherbound today and, if you read along with me, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
The next book we’re reading for this Book Club is Ash by Malinda Lo, an LGBTQIA+ Cinderella retelling. I really want to read Huntress, but that’s a sequel to this book so we’re starting here and I’ll work up to Huntress later.
I haven’t started Ash yet (I’m trying to get through my Reading Around the World pick first since that’s more strictly tied to reading month), but I have a stack of YA books to read and that’s on top!
I was also gifted Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda for having a timely reaction on Twitter! Written by Becky Albertalli and gifted by Renee Elizabeths (who you should totally check out on Twitter because she’s a cool writer that I am looking forward to reading), the opening to this book blew me away and I am not even going to wait to read it!