Monday, July 13, 2015

About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

This copy was provided for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thoughts at a glance: **** (I really liked it)

I'm going to paste here for you the official book blurb instead of summarizing it on my own, because for once I want to point out specifically the way it's described:

Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There's no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty—or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past—and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger—and more complicated—than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family—and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?

So, that's what I had to go on when I decided to request the book. I didn't know anything else about it. I realized later that it's the end of a trilogy (the Metamorphoses trilogy), but upon quickly skimming the summaries of the first two books, I didn't see any blatant connections, and thought that maybe it was a trilogy of stories only loosely related in theme. And while in hindsight, having finished the book, I can see that the obvious connections now, About a Girl worked as a standalone book too. But it definitely was not what I was expecting.

Spoilers to follow



I'm stuck in that place of "There are no words to describe this book" and "I need MANY words to describe this book." I am simultaneously stunned to silence, and at the same time, I want so badly to delve even deeper into this book and rip it to pieces, in a good way.  Like I want to get to the heart of this book and hold it triumphantly in my hands.

So, again, I knew nothing about this book or this series other than the summary given by the publisher.  I thought it was just another realistic, coming-of-age YAF novel along the lines of Sarah Dessen but with an LGBTQ relationship instead of a heteronormative one. Right? That's not an out-of-the-question assumption to have about the plot, based solely on the official summary and a not-particularly-in-depth skimming of the official summaries of the first two books? I mean, just look at the cover.

Oh boy, was I wrong. But I'll get there in a second.

Tally, our narrator and protagonist, has just finished high school, and she's on her way to a top-notch university to study astronomy. She is genius-level intelligent, and the best way I can describe her would be to compare her to Sheldon from the show The Big Bang Theory. She is intellectual on a level that I can't even keep up with sometimes, so I just chuckle when she disparagingly references popular YA books that I like (because of COURSE she would have no patience for The Fault in Our Stars), and I empathize with her heartbreaking passion for the cosmos. I am utterly intrigued by her, even if I don't find her particularly likeable (at least, initially).

The central problem in her life is dealing with the fact that her mother had abandoned her shortly after her birth and that she never even knew her father. Tally has been raised this whole time by her mother's best friend (Aunt Beast, Tally calls her), her roommate Raoul, and his husband Henri. She is friends with a (transgender) boy named Shane, whom she suddenly and maddeningly developed feelings for overnight, and a neighbor she calls Mr. M.

She finds out one day that Mr. M once knew someone who also knew her mother - an old musician named Jack Blake. Tally is suddenly struck with the possibility that Jack could be her father, and at Mr. M's urging, she sets out from NYC for a tiny town on a remote peninsula in Washington to track him down and ask him questions.

But as she travels, things start to get weird. (And I started to get really confused. And fascinated.)

She has these vivid dreams of the same person, over and over. When she arrives in the town, time feels different. For someone who keeps such close track of the stars, she easily forgets what day it is and how long she has been there. She keeps forgetting to call home, despite her best intentions. Crows keep following her around. Everyone she talks to seems to have known her mother, but no one will tell her anything.

She meets a girl named Maddy, whom she is suddenly drawn to and with whom she quickly plunges headlong into love and lust. As she slips into this hazy trance of a relationship, her dreams start becoming hallucinations as well, and they start becoming gory in nature. The line between truth and myth starts getting very, very blurry.

It should've tipped me off that her name, Tally, is short for Atalanta. I don't know much about the myth of Atalanta (just the footrace part, because I'm a runner, and I like that story), so I had to look it up, in case it became important later. (Spoiler alert: it did. Raised by Aunt Beast? Hello!) And then I should've been tipped off again when she meets a character named Hekate, who is otherwise called Kate for the rest of the book. I should've gone back and realized that the series is called the Metamorphoses trilogy, and one of the characters gives her a copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

You guys. YOU GUYS.

It's a mythology story!!!!!

I kept reading, not quite believing yet, not quite sure how far from reality this story would diverge, and even when it totally spelled everything out for me, I still wasn't sure if I was supposed to take things literally, or if everything was supposed to be allegorical. Were Tally's visions of Maddy's bloody past symbolic of intimate partner violence and the loss of a child? *slaps forehead* No, they were actually quite literal, because Maddy is a nickname for Medea. Holy cow.

I've read a lot of mythology in my life, and I totally love it, but I'm not super well-versed beyond what I teach in my curriculum, so there were a lot of things that were hazy for me. But I saw so much packed into this novel, and I was super pleased. I love stories like this, you guys. I really do! Because if I someday reread this book (which I definitely think I will), I will discover new things that I hadn't seen the first time. I love when that happens with books! There are a lot of layers to this story, and I think that as I brush up on my mythology, I will understand and appreciate it more and better every time.

The writing itself is great - the narration switches very fluidly between being uber scientific and being very poetic. It's an on-going joke that other characters keep quoting Hamlet at Tally, and she finds it irritating because she can quote it as well as they can. I often think of Greek and Latin mythology as the domain of the literature and the humanities, but of course there's Greek and Latin all over the sciences as well. *slaps forehead again* That's what makes the Classics amazing.

And the diversity in this book is wonderful. That was actually the first thing that blew me away after realizing Tally's genius. LGBTQ characters, characters of color, non-heteronormative relationships... it was awesome. I kind of wanted to squeal with glee :)

I really liked this book, and now I'm going to go back and read the first two books of the trilogy as well. Way to go, Sarah McCarry. You've got my attention now.

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