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Above by Leah Bobet

Above (edition 2012)

by Leah Bobet

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1921261,408 (2.94)4
Authors:Leah Bobet
Info:Arthur A. Levine Books (2012), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library, To read

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Above by Leah Bobet




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Right away when I started reading Above, I wondered if the writing style was going to be this way through out the entire book – because as I hit page two I was thinking “this reads like how a 7 year old talks” with either incomplete sentences or run on sentences and disjointed thoughts that jump hither and thither. It lacked the reading flow which would have been necessary for me to get past the unique writing style and enjoy the story beneath it. I can see what Leah Bobet was trying to accomplish here by choosing the form of dialect she did for her narrator but I don’t think it needed to be so extreme.

The environment and world that Leah Bobet built for her characters was very convincing in the challenges that the characters faced. You could see how a person raised away from the ‘normal’ world would come to view it having been ingrained with so many prejudices and fears against the people living there. Matthew was a resilient character that I came to respect, he wanted to help everyone but he also had his selfish motives as well, which I thought was a good balance. I did want more of a mental picture of him and found that I didn’t get that until nearly halfway through reading. He was focused so much of the time on Ariel that I think the only other characters I got a really good impression of visually were Atticus and Whisper.

I kept reading hoping that the characters and story would suck me in and send me racing through the pages. This unfortunately, didn’t happen. I don’t believe that was due to poor story building, just my personal inability to get comfortable with the narrative style. By one third of the way through the book I was really struggling to continue reading. Another point that bothered me quite a bit was I wondered, why was the girl, Ariel, featured on the cover when she wasn’t the main character. Personally, I feel that too many YA covers lately have some pretty imagine of a female’s back on the cover. I would have found it more appearing if Matthew would have been the cover since he barely described himself enough and Ariel was given more than ample physical description. Of course this might have been bias on my part as I really didn’t like Ariel’s character much at all. For most of the book, Matthew, is practically swooning over Ariel, whom he had taken into his home in ‘Safe’ about 8 months prior. She seemed unappreciative in so many of her actions, and the excuses he was making for her to people, I couldn’t help getting fed up with.

It is understanding that a story unfolds at it’s own pace, but I was starting to compare the story itself to the dialect. A few times as I would move from scene to scene I asked myself, ‘now what could be the point of this?’ – but I just wasn’t getting it. There were a few scenes that were pointless to me right up until the end when all the pieces come together. Due to this I didn’t feel the continuity through out was there.

By the time I was two thirds of the way through Above, I was still trying to like it and failing.

*Beware spoiler here* -
as I mentioned I wasn’t fond of Ariel, but at this point BAM – the author throws out the token abusive ex boyfriend and her having run back to him after Matthew is gone for but a few hours, and I was just done, done I tell you. At that point I was officially disgusted with her. To me the abusive ex boyfriend angle was a big mistake and didn’t fit at all with her past behavior, the whole secrecy thing and “don’t you know you aren’t supposed to tell…” vibe Ariel had just didn’t match up with just some abusive ex boyfriend. I felt it was a poor pairing. Even though later on it’s redeemed somewhat with the fact that she’s actually schizophrenic and had been in another asylum type of facility where she received “therapy” – you don’t learn this until almost the very end, which by then the information to me fell flat as I’d already had my anger spurt with the story so many pages previous.
*End spoiler*

I thought after completing this that I still don’t think the narrator’s speech would have been this extreme. My reasoning for this was due to a number of the ‘freaks’ that came to live in the underground sanctuary of ‘Safe’, were into their late teen years or older by the time they started living there, and a number of them were educated. As we learn our speech patterns from those we grow up around, I can’t see why there was a need for Matthew to speak the way he does. I’ve read a number of other books written in something other than plain English and never had the problem that I had with Above. There were sometimes instances where I had to go back and reread a few lines over just to make sure that I was understanding it correctly. The story itself I thought was interesting and unique with some definite lessons to be learned within it but ultimately, Above was not my cup of tea mostly because of the style it was written in. ( )
  Pabkins | Jun 24, 2014 |
I really wanted to like this book. But..I didn't. It was really confusing and I had a really hard time grasping what was going on. It was a little to fast paced with no map of what everything meant. It wasn't the plot that i didn't like just the execution. Some may have a better time following it than me ...shrug...dunno just didn't work for me. ( )
  justablondemoment | Oct 11, 2013 |
A little backstory would have made this a great book. ( )
  seekayou | Aug 20, 2013 |
Above, by Canadian author Leah Bobet, is a truly well-crafted novel, written by an author clearly comfortable with voice, language and imagery. In this dark, modern fairy tale Bobet writes from a very difficult point of view, yet manages to sustain tension that leaves the reader flayed. Her pace and the emotional impact of that pace is relentless. Not an easy read, not a novel you'd wish to pick up for a quick escape into something creamy, dreamy and fluffy, yet Above is very much worthy of your time and attention.

Overall the story deals with the story of Matthew, the story-keeper of a Torontonian underground society, and his tragic love of one of his fellow mutants, Ariel. But to summarize Bobet's tale by calling it a love story is to describe the Mona Lisa as a portrait. Just like the dystopian Toronto she creates, the story has layers upon layers. It is primarily a dark fantasy, yes. But it is also an indictment of barbaric psychiatric practices, of society's inability to deal with the homeless, with the estranged, with the strange. It is a social commentary written with adroitness and insight, and all done with an accomplished story-teller's art.

My only quibble, and it is a middling one, is the classification under which the publisher chose to list the book: young adult. While I can understand the reasoning behind that decision, I also cannot help but feel it was one chosen as an expedience, rather than a true understanding of Bobet's work and its impact. The tale is so dark, and the writing so at the edge of avant guard, that the novel might gain wider and better recognition under an adult classification.

But, as I mentioned, I quibble.

Certainly Bobet's novel is one worth your time. Recommended. ( )
1 vote fiverivers | Jun 18, 2013 |
Originally reviewed on A Reader of Fictions.

What on this crazy, polluted planet did I just read? Seriously, I just finished reading this and I have no freaking clue. If this book were a person, it would likely end up in a straitjacket, trapped in the sorts of institutions many of its characters have been at one point or another. Mix together One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Dust Girl, and I think you've got something that roughly approximates Above.

The world depicted herein does have interesting features. For example, there are people with powers, like Jack and his lightning hands. Others are part animal, like Matthew and his scales. Some of these Freaks, those that aren't normal, have formed a community, hidden beneath the earth in tunnels, safe from the doctors and the institutions. They call their community Safe, and Atticus is their leader.

This basic premise could have made an outstanding book, but it didn't. The lack of explanation caused me to get stuck in questioning mode, unable to suspend disbelief. So far as I noticed, there was never once any sort of description of HOW society came to be this way. People don't just suddenly get born with lion feet for no reason. I'm not even asking for much. Just give me something! Really, I would have been a bit more positive towards the book had their been just a sentence telling me that these changes were the result of drugs, chemicals in the food, pollution, SOMETHING.

The character of Ariel, pictured on the book's cover, proved to be another insurmountable obstacle for me as a reader. While I can easily accept some of the curses (or so they call them) that the people of Safe possess, like wielding lightning or speaking with ghosts, I had major difficulty with the animal hybrids. Still, I could accept to some degree at least Atticus' claw hands and Matthew's dad's lion feet. Fine. Ariel, though, I could not fathom. You see, she is not precisely as pictured. She looks completely normal sometimes, entirely human. However, she can TURN INTO A BEE. Her ability differs from everyone else's greatly, and I couldn't deal with the whole conservation of matter issues. Sure, I've read books where I wasn't bothered by things like that (Harry Potter, for example), but this aspect just seemed out of place within Bobet's own world. Why was Ariel so unique?

Matthew is a meh main character, which is unfortunate, especially considering that I still found him to be the most interesting character. Everyone feels flat and I don't get a sense of any real emotion anywhere, even in the scenes that I know were meant to be gut-wrenching. Perhaps this stems from the way Bobet chose to tell the story, as Matthew's autobiography, thus creating a sense of removal from those moments?

Matthew has a momentous crush on Ariel, although it's never put into those terms. I will give the romance credit for not being remotely like any other YA romances. However, that does not make me ship them any more. Again, it's hard to root for them when I have no sense of who they really are. Ariel, especially, does not seem to much care for anyone and would probably be best off alone.

The writing teetered on the edge of dialect but, except for one brief section, remained normal enough that I didn't want to stab my eyes out with one of my stiletto heels. Her long (mostly about forty pages) chapters made my eyes cross. I was constantly flipping ahead to see how many pages of the chapter remained, and the answer was usually too many. Additionally, I did not care for the Tales told at the end of each chapter, a brief story of how some of the key characters came to be in Safe. The characters chosen seemed entirely arbitrary, with some important ones having been skipped and some we never even meet getting a section. Many of these didn't add to the book for me at all. I feel like it would have been stronger to integrate them into the rest of the text.

There were some ideas in Above that I really liked, some shining possibility from amidst the weirdness. I really wish that Bobet hadn't made this a paranormal. As an issues book set in a dystopian future with a crackdown on crazy people (like The Glimpse), this could have been so powerful. The paranormal elements detracted from the serious themes, like the abuse Ariel has suffered and the inhumane treatments perpetrated by the Whitecoats.

About all I can say having finished Above is that I didn't completely hate it. However, I have so little positive to say that I cannot even rate it a meh. Some readers surely exist who can appreciate Bobet's vision, but I am not that reader. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
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"My last supply duty before Sanctuary Night, I get home and Atticus is waiting."
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When insane exile Corner and his army of mindless, whispering shadows invade Safe, a secret, underground community of freaks and disabled outcasts, Matthew, traumatized shapeshifter Ariel, and other misfits go to the dangerous place known as Above, where Matthew makes a shocking discovery about the histories entrusted to him.… (more)

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