Above by Leah Bobet

I’m not sure where to start with this review, so I think I’ll mix it up a bit. Above by Leah Bobet has a lot going on. I mean, a lot. So I’m going to help us both out and give you the word-for-word back cover description summary, whatever you want to call it. This is the first time I’ve included this info, tell me how you like it.

  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2012
  • Source: Purchased

“Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above–like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home–not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

ABOVE is the debut of an amazing new voice.”

When I picked out this book to review, I’m not sure what I expected. And honestly, when I was reading it, I was really focused on how my review would sound and wanting to finish it so I could put up a post within the week. I really wish I hadn’t read Above with that mindset. But, that’s the downfall of writing book reviews, I suppose. So what I’m trying to say is that I kind of rushed through it and this isn’t the kind of book that you rush through. It’s extremely thoughtful, metaphorical, and filled with layers and layers of deeper meaning (not to sound redundant). This book is everything I love about Young Adult and everything that people don’t expect when they think of our genre. It’s not about the guy getting the girl, or the girl’s mom dying, or some post-Apocalyptic theme. DISCLAIMER: I love those books! I just think a step away from them every once in a while offers some much-needed perspective.

It’s about a lot of stuff, a lot of people, a lot of humanity. The one off comment I will say about this story is that I found the plot kind of hard to follow at times. I’m not sure if that’s just because I didn’t have the time to devote all of my brain to it, or if it was actually just that confusing. It’s most likely the first, as this week as really hit me hard with school shenanigans.

It was weird because even though I couldn’t follow the overlying plot at times, the underlying messages were very clear. This is kind of hard to explain. I face certain problems when I attempt to read novels analytically, and they are always the same. I understand what’s happening, but I don’t always understand a person’s deeper meaning, or an author’s metaphors. Does that make sense? I really hate using the word “deep”, but it’s necessary for this explanation.

That was not the case with Bobet’s book. I really and truly knew what her “deeper meanings” were, I really did. I didn’t however get what was actually happening in the book. This totally isn’t a bad thing! It just makes me mad because I should have devoted more time and effort to it. Now, I just really wanted to reread it.

I think it was confusing for me because Bobet is a genius. Matthew, the voice of the story, is the Teller of Safe, a place where Freaks, Beasts and Sick people find refuge from the world above. Matthew has many responsibilities, some thrusted upon him, and some he chooses of his own accord. The people of Safe believe that a person’s tale is one of the most valuable possessions you can have. It is how they learn and it is how they warn and it is their history. In that sense, the people of Safe are just like the people from Above. We all have our stories, stories that make us who we are, stories that have taught us how to be better. Matthew’s responsibility is to keep Safe and to be the Teller of everyone’s tale. That’s what he does for his community, for his home. He didn’t choose to be Teller, but he is. Ariel, a girl with iridescent wings that he finds alone in a sewer, is not his responsibility. But he sees her, and it’s his job to Keep Safe, and taking care of her, loving her, is keeping Safe.

I like Matthew. I like how he loves Ariel: sweetly, and softly and never overwhelming her. She is not an easy girl to love. She’s Sick, she’s a Freak, she’s a Beast. But Matthew loves her.

I say this a lot when I review fantasies, but it’s always true, so whatever. Even though this novel  is about people with crab arms and scales and wings who live in the pipes underneath a city, it rings true with what it means to be a person. It tells a real story of human frustration and abuse, which is a vein I didn’t foresee (I’ll stop there because spoilers are the evilest of evils). She may have wings, but Ariel is just a girl trying to find her way out of a scary place, and how that can be the hardest thing a person has to do, especially when you’re sick.

Ariel hasn’t lived an easy life. No one in Safe has. She’s used to running, or in her case, flying away. She’s good at it. Bobet mentions being locked in chains a couple times, not associated with Ariel’s frequent fleeing. But in my brain, the chains and the running are connected. Sometimes, you feel trapped in your situation and you feel like the only way to fix it is to run. And keep on running. I don’t disagree with that, but I also think that always running away becomes its own set of chains, its own trap. Running away is temporary, it won’t fix a problem, it will only push it away, which is something Ariel must learn for herself. I don’t want to give away too much, but Ariel’s Tale was the most surprising part of this novel. It’s so good.

Above is also about the trouble with knowing. I wasn’t sure what was happening at times, I couldn’t follow, and that kind of bugged me. But then I thought, maybe that’s the point. Maybe  Bobet was trying to convey that it’s difficult to know something, to know anything. “I’m thinking ’bout the limits to their knowing,” Michael said. This is in the context of these scary shadow figures, but I sort of think this is Bobet’s way of explaining that you can’t know everything. You can’t know everyone. There are limits to your knowing. And when you reach those limits, it boils down to trust. Trust is a big part of this novel too, and it’s a huge part of humanity. People struggle with trusting other people. It’s just the way it is and that’s no different for Matthew and the other people of Safe. Matthew has to figure out for himself what it means to trust people. He learns that it’s good to put your faith in others, if they deserve it and are worthy of it. And he learns to trust himself, which is something everyone has to do at some point, I think, regardless of whether they are Freak or Beast or from Above.

Above, told as it happened and mixed with the various Tales of its characters, is a story about a lot of stuff, but most relevant (to me at least) is that it’s a story about figuring out who you are meant to be and what you are meant to do. It’s about finding your voice. It’s about making Safe for everyone, even if it breaks your heart. It’s about being selfless.

I could go on for days. Leah Bobet, you’re the real Teller here.

9 out of 10.

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