Above: review

April 29, 2012 2012, 4 star books, Canadian, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, K., Leah Bobet 56

by Leah Bobet

Above is a deeply human tale. Bobet takes human problems, human hates, human sadnesses and disappointments, and human hopes, and wraps them up in a jarringly sparse, backwards prose about an underground community of Freaks, who wish for nothing more than to be left alone.  

Above is a challenge, evidenced by the numerous reviewers who’ve abandoned ship before they ever set sail. Which is a shame. Because while this may be categorized under paranormal and science fiction, it’s really no more than a disguise. Bobet’s story hits much closer to home than might be expected.

The prose. It is the gift and curse. The dialect is disordered and requires deciphering. Basic rules of grammar does not apply here. Our protagonist, Matthew, is a young man born underground, in Safe. A Freak-built safe-house for those who have gills, lion’s feet, and crab claws; for those who speak to ghosts, who turn into bees, and who turn into shadows. The language is theirs; it is for them to use, and us to understand. It is specifically distinct of Matthew, who does not know above-ground talk. He grew up in darkness and isolation and so his words are altered; he is both innocent and unrefined in the way he thinks and describes.

Bobet blurs the lines in speech structure, and that is why it is difficult to join her rhythm, because you are constantly re-reading to re-confirm if what you understood is really what was meant. It isn’t lyrical, but blunt – short. And yet, at times, it hits the point harder than anything you’ve read.

He yells, straightens up with a swear that tells me he is the one, he’s the one that broke my Ariel, broke her down made her Freak made her scared of sweet words or touching so I had to walk slow and careful, talk soft and always be patient and never just kiss her like I wanted to. Took away her want to be kissed. (That’s an easy one.)

The manner in which the supernatural aspect of this novel was presented is interesting. No explanation is given as to how these Freaks came about. There is simply the society, and in this society, some have genetic disorders. This downplays the fact that these people are creatures instead of Normal. It grazes over their maladies and conditions. Because what Bobet focuses on is their plight. It’s their pain that is sad, not that they were born different.

The emotional crux of this story is belonging. These people have been mistreated, bullied as children, cast out as adults. Some were surrendered by their own family, some by their lovers. They’ve dug their way underground, underneath the life of Above, to find shelter and comfort. When that is taken from them, they disperse into chaos and they panic because they are exposed. But it isn’t just characters with deformation. Bobet incorporates cultural and racial prejudice, maltreatment (in multiple forms) towards patients of mental disorder, and the moral discussion over appropriate medical mandate.

Matthew may appear bland and almost like an Everyman, but only because he isn’t as flavoured in ways that make other central characters entertaining or memorable. He is rather a quiet hero. He doesn’t ask for applause or girls gushing over his noble looks. He stands for himself and his principles, and that is enough in my book. Matthew, or Teller as he’s also known, is the Tale keeper of his people. He is a living, breathing storyteller, and it is his responsibility to pass on the histories of their struggles as well as their achievements. He represents duty and stalwartness, always longing for home and determined to restore it for his people. Mainly, perhaps, because he had not experienced being wronged. Because this also explores the bitter side of persecution. The fact that not everyone comes through the other end in acceptance and understanding. It talks about the hate and the anger that blinds one against their injustice, and the eventual price one is in danger of paying if one does not let go.

Above carried depth I didn’t expect…and truthfully, depth I didn’t know it had until I finished. And even more truthfully, more depth than I was probably able to grasp. There are obstacles along the way. Because of the language, some parts were a bit obscure and ambiguous. Ariel was occasionally frustrating – and just like I predicted, she was indeed a beautiful mess. The plot is substantially smaller than the word dystopia makes it out to be. But which, again, lends itself to Bobet’s aim of telling a story about ourselves, rather than one about monsters and medical experiments gone awry. It could’ve been more here, and it could’ve been more there. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t epic. But much like the Freaks in this book, once you look past the debris, it really isn’t all that peculiar.

Rated 4 out of 5 stars

This review also appears on Goodreads.

56 Responses to “Above: review”

  1. Emily

    I’m so happy to read this review. I was initially attracted to the book because of the cover, then I started reading all the negative reviews. As far as the stylized language, I kind of like books like that. Blood Red Road is another example that comes to mind of a book that I saw a lot of people writing off just because of the dialect.

    I definitely hope to pick up this book soon!

  2. Natalie Sutton

    I saw the cover of this a while ago and had instant cover swoon, but I’m glad to see it’s more than that. I hadn’t heard anything about unusual prose but with your review I at least know to plow through it for the story if I have a difficult time with it.

    Now I can happily go buy the book with the pretty cover and know it’ll be worth it!

  3. Natalia Belikov @ Dazzling Reads

    Oh dear, what an excellent review!! I, as you, wasnt expecting so much depth and I am also pretty sure I wasnt able to get everything that this book has to offer. For me was also hard to read, specially the first half of it (it took me half a book to get a bit more used to the style) but then, thankfully I didnt put it down and once I reached the end, the story just rewarded me with so much more than I expected.

    Outstanding review,I agree that it is not epic and that it could have been a little bit more of these and a change in there (just for the sake of understanding in an easier way) but this book is totally worth reading!

    Thnx for sharing your wonderful thoughts =)

    Dazzling Reads

  4. Vivien

    So glad to hear you really enjoyed this one. It’s been on my must read list for months. While everyone else has been having issues, this only furthers my need to read it. I’m all about making my own decisions :)

    • K.

      I love that the negative reviews only fueled your desire to read it even more :D

  5. Mel - Thedailyprophecy.

    I’m glad that you liked it! I’ve read some negative reviews about this book and I lost my enthusiasm a bit. Now it’s back and I’m definitely going to give this one a try. Thanks!

  6. Kari

    I stumbled across your blog via Twitter, and I’m glad I did! I’ve read a few of Wendy Darling’s reviews on Goodreads, and they’re usually pretty spot-on with what I thought of the book. This one was kind of up in the air for me, but your review has me thinking I might give it a go =)

    • K.

      Thank you! Stop by any time…and I’m glad I was able to change your mind.

    • K.

      Thank you Natasa, though I’m quite certain that you’re referring to Miss Wendy Darling :) Hi, I’m K., nice to meet you! Aside from that, go ahead and give this book a try!

  7. Flannery (The Readventurer)

    I think I just read a few negative reviews of this and crossed it off my list but you really made me want to consider it again. I got really excited about the list of things people were like underground–crab claws, talking to ghosts, and turning into bees? I feel like each of these things is easily an entire book in itself:)

    • K.

      I’m so glad I’ve made you reconsider even when you think this may still not be the book for you, Flannery. That seems to be the general consensus. I feel like I’ve done my job in regards to this oh so conflicted little book :)

  8. Amy

    So glad that you enjoyed this one. I have seen so many mixed reviews on it. Great review!!

    • K.

      Well, I hope I was able to sway you one way or another…hopefully, my way :)

  9. Sam

    Your review has convinced me this may be worth a shot. Honestly, I was turned off by the writing style (I’m not the most patient of readers) but I think if I can get over that, then this story sounds like one well worth reading. Great review, K!

  10. A Canadian Girl

    K, all I know about Above is that it’s written by a Canadian author. So, it was nice to learn a little more about it; and when I do get a chance to read it, I’ll be aware to not give up on it right away because of the writing.

    • K.

      Yes, that’s the key. Keep going as far as you can! Good luck…I’ve been saying that a lot about this book, haha!

  11. Mimi Valentine

    Confession: I tried to get into this book last month when it came out but couldn’t manage to get used to the writing — it was just so different from what I was used to! But even though I set it down at the time because I had so many other books I needed to get to first, you’ve convinced me to go back and pick it up to give it another shot! :) You have a beautiful way with words — the way you talked about Matthew and Ariel? I’m sold all over again!

    Beautiful review, K! <3

    • K.

      Well, my reading Above was definitely not smooth sailing! I must stress that. I was just as frustrated as everybody else. I just learned to appreciate it as it got to the end…and then yeah, it hit me. I hope second time’s a charm for you, Mimi ;)

  12. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    This is by far the best review for ABOVE that I’ve come across. Everyone just said it was strange and didn’t go into the detail this review did. I’m still not sure that this is the book for me. But I love that it has such relevant and touching themes.
    Lovely review, K.

    • K.

      Thank you so much, Andrea! It’s true. When I go down my friends list on GR, almost all of them labeled this under “given-up”, or “abandoned”. But there are a couple of amazing reviews there as well that really inspired me to do this justice. This books is definitely not for everyone, and that’s okay!

  13. armchairauthor

    Okay, okay, you’ve convinced me. This sounds like my favorite kind of book, one that gives more the more the reader considers it. I found this site via the Kiera Cass kerfuffle on Goodreads, I really admire how you conducted yourself. Looking forward to reading Above, and reading more of your reviews.

    • K.

      Wow, thank you, armchairauthor (first name, or last name?) Haha! I hope this lives up to your expectations :D

  14. Rachel

    Great review K. The way you speak of the language reminds me of Blood Red Road. I’ve seen this one around but haven’t really heard much about it. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. :)

    • K.

      Oh no, Rachel. This makes Blood Red Road a skip in the park with rocky pavement. Above is more like taking a hike on ground that has been bulldozed and left open through Canadian winter. I wish you luck.

      Haha, I do, though. Let me know what you think!

  15. Heidi

    Wonderfully written review! I’ve honestly only read one review of this book thus far, which surprisingly made no mention of the unique language usage (though the reviewer did quite like it). Knowing this actually makes me more interested in reading this book. Maybe I’ll get frustrated and want to put it aside as well, but sometimes if you can get into the rhythm that type of thing really makes a book. Thanks!

    • K.

      If that reviewer read this book and didn’t notice anything about the language then…I actually don’t know. Partly impressed, partly stunned. I’m glad you’re giving this a shot even when you know it’ll probably bite you in the @$$ for trying, hah!

  16. Missie, The Unread Reader

    Obscure writing styles always throw me off, and based on the sample you provided, I think I’d have a hard time getting through this one despite the fact that the society and the Freaks sound so interesting. I would love to be able to appreciate a book like this. I wonder if it would be easier to for me to try on audio?

    • K.

      No, I think it’d be harder with audio. You’ll constantly be replaying it! If that is indeed how you feel, please stay clear of this! You don’t need to put yourself through this agony…haha!!

  17. Book Sake

    I had issues with the writing style, I don’t like struggling to grasp what’s going on and having to reread – it begins to feel like a chore to me when that happens. However, I do agree with your thoughts on the theme of the book!

    – Jessica @ Book Sake

    • K.

      Don’t worry. I probably looked constipated throughout my experience with this book :S

  18. KM

    Okay, the style of the book is reminding me of William Faulkner and his 6-page-long sentences. But I’m hoping Bobet doesn’t go quite that far. lol I still think this sounds like an interesting book, and the structure makes it seem even more interesting! Great review!

    • K.

      I’ve never read Faulkner (tsk tsk, I know) but I can assure you her sentences aren’t 6 pages long…if that helps ;)

  19. Lalaine

    Wow this book sounds freaking amazing. I cannot wait to read it. Glad you enjoyed this one, I have this onmy shelf for ahwile now. Thanks for sharing. Great review K.x<3


  20. Jasprit

    I’ve never come across this book before but it certainly sounds intriguing, it also sounds like it’s a lot to get your head around! Great review K, I’m glad you stuck it out and enjoyed it! :)

    • K.

      I think it’s a lot deeper than even I was able understand — but because of the language, I wasn’t able to truly infuse myself as I would’ve been able to had it been written a bit easier. Hope you end up getting around to it!

  21. Melliane

    I think this books is different from what I expected, but wow I just love the cover.it sounds much more emotional than I though. However it looks very interesting and I confess I’m quite curious to learn more about it. great review!

  22. Natalie (Mindful Musings)

    “Above carried depth I didn’t expect…and truthfully, depth I didn’t know it had until I finished.”

    This, more than anything else, is what really makes me want to read this book. Though I’ve been reading some mixed reviews of it, I still have to say that I’m very intrigued by the overall story idea, and your review definitely gives me hope! :)

    • K.

      I’ve seen hate and I’ve seen praise for this book. I hope you end up in the latter because there’s honestly not that many of us, haha!!

  23. Vegan YA Nerds

    I haven’t read many reviews of this, come to think of it, I’m not even sure if I’ve read a review at all so I was unaware that people were quitting on it. It sounds unique and interesting and I’ve liked the cover for a while. After reading your review, I am definitely going to give it a go!

  24. Joyous Reads

    I tried reading this but like you said, their language is their own and I found it too distracting. Unfortunate, really, because the story and world seem entirely unique.

  25. roro

    tnx for the honest review
    seen a lot of mixed reviews

    and i feel w/ my gut and i choose what to read w/ it to /lol
    i unfreaking beliveable want this 1

    thank you

  26. Wendy Darling

    Wow, I’ve seen the mixed reviews of this book, K.–and even though you had mixed reactions yourself, the fact that you’ve given it 4 out of 5 stars suddenly makes me interested in giving it a shot. Thanks for the thorough and honest review.

    • K.

      Well, it all kind of clicked in the end for me. I warn thee, this isn’t for everyone. But true reader if I’ve ever known one and I’m sure you’ll give this the chance it deserves :)

  27. Eden

    Good to hear Above had something to recommend itself for in the end! I have to say I’m one of those readers who put it down before the ship set sail, and I don’t think I’d pick it up again for the themes and prose (impatience alert, haha). But I’m glad you were pleased with it. :)

    • K.

      Aw, that’s too bad. I know what you mean though. Sometimes the pay off isn’t worth the frustration :/