Hardcover, 373 pages
Expected publication: April 8th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Net Galley
Plus One is Elizabeth Fama’s sophomore YA novel and one I liked a whole lot better than her debut. The novel focalizes on Soleil Le Coeur who calls herself a Smudge, which is a derogatory term for those who have the supposed misfortune to be allowed out on during the night. Desiring to introduce her new born niece to her grandfather before he dies, she concocts a mad plan to abduct the baby for a few hours just so she can achieve exactly that. Her plan includes getting severely hurt so that she’s taken to a day hospital (or the hospital during the day) and once there she can carry out her well meaning but nefarious plan.
She didn’t count on the apprentice doctor, a boy a year older than her, catching on to the self-inflicted wound and reporting her to the authorities. She also didn’t count on there already being a nefarious plan in process; one that involved the kidnapping of the Night Minister who conveniently has just given birth at the same hospital as her sister in law. She ends up with the wrong baby, a kidnapped grandfather and a beaky-nosed partner in crime who other than his tattling habits is quite helpful when running from authorities and negotiating with sick-grandpa kidnappers. He also has a fantastic father though he didn’t win the good mother lottery. I guess one can’t win them all.
The success of the novel, for me, is due entirely to Soleil’s character. Rather than the imperturbable, stoic character that Katniss-inspired heroines usually display, she is realistically human with more flaws, insecurities and issues. She has a legitimate reasons to be angry at the world; her grandfather, the only family she has remaining, is dying of cancer, her brother was taken away from her and given over to Day and has seemingly removed her from his life, she has no job prospects other than the drudgery assigned to her, her parents were rebels who were killed and just, her life really sucks. But there is a lightness to her voice that takes away the melodramatic nature of her situation. Her interactions with the D’Arcy are fun though I will talk more about romance a bit later on. I liked the way Fama lingered a while on what it means to lose someone to death. I have been through it and I thought death and loss were explored with delicate detail that did not skim or trivialize the grief that follows the death of someone who was a parent to you.
I wasn’t, however, convinced by the premise. It seemed bizarre to me that people would willingly be herded into night and day because I love the night but I love the day as well and I can’t imagine a world where riots weren’t a daily consequence of this separation. Also, it would be remarkably easy to break this law. Go outside on your roof, inside an alley, under a hedge; breathe in the day. The division would be difficult to put into place and then enforce. Another thing that gave me mixed feelings was the romance. I liked it; I liked how careful Fama was to give Soleil a voice where her sexuality was concerned. She made the choices and she was the proactive one and I liked that. However, I think that the romance was done with a bit too heavy a hand. The whole desk thing and swift way Soleil’s feelings changed had me raising an eyebrow. It comes dangerously close to (it does become) cheesy at times. There is also an incident with a cop and a member of a rebellious group that and some bushes that left me feeling quite ill. Did the novel really need something like that?
Soleil and D’Arcy become faux members of this rebellious group by undergoing a physical transformation. Soleil puts on thick makeup and short, skimpy clothes and suddenly she is considered easy prey by the outside world. This is problematic because the connotations are suspect. Of course I might be overthinking the entire thing but an awareness of the subtext is necessary. Furthermore, the tragic ending that awaits the character whose behaviour is outside patriarchal society’s prescriptions serves to validate the normative behaviour and warn of the consequences that come with expressing sexuality in a way other than what is accepted.
However, all quibbles aside, I did enjoy this novel ultimately and I am looking forward to seeing what the next one brings. If you are an aficionado of fun heroines and dystopian novels, you should give this one a try.