This book. Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever wished more to be able to describe the feeling that comes off the pages of a story, the sense, rather than the plot or the characters. Maybe I’m shooting for the voice, but that’s not much easier to explain or talk about than feeling.
I found Aaron Starmer’s The Only Ones by chance, browsing through the e-book pages at my library. I liked the cover, frankly. And it seemed like a middle-grade story, which I’m big into reading right now.
I try not to do the if you liked thing too much, or describe books by comparing them to others. BUT. While I was reading the opening chapters, other books kept popping into my mind. Not because The Only Ones is like any of them, or all of them in combination, or at all derivative of anything. Still, the titles that came to me were…The Phantom Tollbooth. The Little Prince. Lord of the Flies. And maybe the faintest hint of a picture book I read in my childhood, but that was published a couple of decades before I was born–Marie Hall Ets’ In the Forest.
I know, right?
(Okay, yes one other, more recent book, came to mind early on, but I’m not telling you that one here, because it would be a total spoiler. Which I didn’t realize until I finished the book myself. So no spoilers.
If When you read the book, if you want to know the last title or share your guess either ask me for the info in a comment and make sure I can contact you, or send me a private message, and I’ll answer. But let’s not ruin it for the others.)
I’ve read a couple of blurbs of the book, and, frankly, I don’t like the way it’s being described. (Hey, you make me fall in love with your book, I’m going to claim partial ownership.) They all jump ahead, past the beginning, which, yes, sure, isn’t all fast-paced and zippity-doo-dah action. Maybe it feels a little old-fashioned, but only in that it doesn’t feel (here I go again) like any of the books I’ve read that were written in the past few years. Not old-fashioned as in slow, or dense, or starting the story up at cloud-level and waiting forever to come down to earth where the characters are. None of those. Maybe it’s just that Martin, the boy in the story, is very isolated, and the beginning is solely his story, so the voice feels at once very close to him and at the same time very distant from anything else.
Because my least favorite part of writing a “review” is doing the summary, I’ll just link you to the blurb on Starmer’s page. But if your go over and read that, know, please, that so much more happens before Martin finds Xibalba. SO MUCH MORE. And, IMVSHO (in my very strong honest opinion), all of it is critical to the story, to getting to know Martin and all his whys, to getting introduced to the machine so that it’s part of the world before you find out how important it is (and, again, why). In the beginning, for many pages…Martin. Is. Alone. And this matters. It really, really matters. Because Martin is going to change, IN BIG, BIG WAYS, throughout the story, and Starmer has taken the time, given us the time, to understand Martin before those changes.
The book certainly doesn’t start out light or cheerful, but it starts out–I guess I’d say–intact and whole. Martin lives in a world that is, if narrow, understandable. That doesn’t last. The world breaks, Martin breaks, and–oh,boy–the other kids break. So, yeah, sure, it’s middle-grade, but…there is violence. And there is loss. And none of it is tiptoed around or gentled or placed in softly padded bags for us. In the middle of all that reality is some pretty special science-fiction. Maybe. It might be magic. This book is at once more real and less real than anything I can (yet) imagine myself writing.
So far. Because, hoo-boy, if I could write like this…if I could create this solid a world and this powerful a set of happenings and characters this quirky and creative all with a VOICE and a FEEL…
Some day. This is why I write, why I keep at it. And this is so, so why I read.