Yesterday, I read a book called Quicksilver by RJ Anderson. This is not a review of that book, because my view of it is flawed for reasons I’ll explain, but it is about it. I wrote another post before this one, but it was a total mess and covered about eight topics in one post, so maybe I’ll try and break it down some time. However, let’s stick with this book for now, because I’m excited by it.
I picked it up in the library on a whim with no expectations whatsoever, because occasionally I do that, and also I’m incapable of leaving a library with only one book.
It had very little in the way of a blurb, but it did have a quote saying it was “unlike any teen novel you’ve ever read” which is such a cliched phrase that I almost gave up there and then. 90% of the time, that’s not even true. On this occasion, though, it was, in a totally unexpected way.
Okay, so it turned out to be a sequel, which was … problematic. Without having read book one, I was missing a pretty vital chunk of backstory and explanation. That didn’t ruin it, though. It just made me want to track down book one and then reread it.
But it was most definitely unusual, and I’m so glad I picked it up.
It was set in Canada. This seems dumb, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Canada before. America, yes, all the time. And Britain, yeah. But Canada? Hello, new experiences and lingo! (Luckily, my brother’s girlfriend is Canadian, so I at least know what poutine actually is.)
It had a racially diverse cast of characters. This is something I want to talk in more detail about and formed the basis of the other post I didn’t actually publish. Only recently did I become aware of things like racial diversity in books, but now I’m actively seeking it out, because I want to know what I can do better as a writer. I recently read the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, which feature a mixed-race protagonist, and next on my to-read list is Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. This book had a prominent Korean character, which isn’t something I’ve often come across, and he was well-developed instead of being a stereotype.
It had an asexual protagonist. I probably don’t even need to explain why this meant so much to me, but I was utterly astonished to realise that I’ve never in eighteen years read a book with a canonically asexual character, somebody who identifies aloud as asexual. And she’s not aromantic, either, not wholly opposed to the idea of romance or even, under certain circumstances, kissing. But she refers to her total disinterest in and apathy towards the idea of sex, and there was also possibly a cake joke* in there, and I don’t know … it made me happy. And made me feel validated.
It had neuroatypical characters. Specifically, a character suffering from synesthesia, something I’ve heard of but don’t know a great deal about. And when I say ‘suffering’ I mean ‘suffering’. It’s not a quirk. She ends up on a psych ward following a misdiagnosis — most of this I think is book 1 stuff that carries over to book 2 — and it’s definitely not seen as something quirky and interesting. Mentally ill characters are rare, particularly in YA fiction and particularly beyond the realms of things like anxiety and depression.
It emphasised the importance of platonic friendships. I mean, this kind of linked to the whole ‘ace protagonist’ thing, but her strong assertion that there was no such thing as ‘just friends’ was something that I don’t see often enough in YA fiction.
The protagonist wasn’t a cliche. She was best at maths and science, soldered stuff to calm down when stressed, could build electronics from scratch, and counted binary numbers to help her sleep. (I won’t explain the reason for this because spoilers.) English Lit was her worst subject. In other words, she was the antithesis of most female protags.
She understood the necessity of social interaction. She was socially awkward and struggled with people but she mentioned her parents teaching her to read body language and facial expressions, and showed her how to integrate herself and become popular. Instead of shunning others and considering herself better than them, she physically made an effort to socialise and overcome barriers.
Her parents actually featured. They seemed overprotective at times, but her parents (and those of her friends) featured as characters. Parental supervision is often entirely absent in YA books, the better for the characters to get up to mischief, so it was refreshing.
It was, in short, unusual. And also funny, well-written and intriguing. I admit that, without having read book one, I found myself confused at points, feeling like I didn’t have all the information. Therefore, my opinion of it will always be flawed, because I didn’t read it as it was intended to be read and I will never know exactly how ‘clear’ the plot would be to someone reading it properly, which is why I didn’t ‘review’ it.
But I can’t fault the author because their publisher didn’t write BOOK TWO on the cover — even though it was totally not stated anywhere. (I hate it when they do that.)
Instead, I’d like to share this book with you as an example of something that was unusual and intriguing, and a recommended read if any of the things above sound interesting to you.
Representation of queer characters has been a popular topic on this blog, but in the near future I’d like to talk more about how I’ve come to the idea of racial diversity shamefully late in my writing life and what’s caused or triggered that change, as well as a few observations I’ve made, so you’ll be seeing that soon.
I might also be writing about the production of Coriolanus that I saw yesterday, but no guarantees. In the meantime, what are you reading? Any other books with a massively diverse cast of characters or an ace protagonist that I should read?— I’m very aware that many of my followers have not migrated over from my old blog, so if you are reading this and have not yet let me know, please do! I’d like to be sure I’m not shouting into a cybervoid. :) —
*cake is often associated with asexuality. The origin of this seems to be obscure (although as with many things, linked with internet forums), but it might be that given the choice between cake or sex, an ace would almost certainly go for cake. Obviously. Cake is AWESOME. Also, yeah, I’m aware that the pun in the title is appalling, ‘kay?