Hundreds of Hodderwords review: Above, by Isla Morley
The March Hodderscape Review Project is out.
100 words: Overall
I’m of somewhat mixed mind of this book. It started off strong, pulling the reader in with a great premise – a young girl, kidnapped by a survivalist and locked up in a disused nuclear silo. So far, so good, and the book has a strong beginning. It’s easy, if potentially triggery for those with a history of sexual abuse, to get drawn into a story like this. There are extreme stakes and a good clash of culture and values and assumptions. The thing is, this story has been done, really well, just a few years ago, so it’s harder now.
100 words: Descent (Below)
The cracks in the story start to show once our hero Blythe is trapped underground. She tries to escape several times, but it feels almost by the numbers. She tries. Dobbs, the school librarian survivalist with the clip-on tie and lacquered hair, stops her, and then makes her confinement a little more complex. Promising ideas – a vent that goes to the ground level, are touched on and explored, as though it’s just there to be filler until the inevitable twist comes. Does a plot twist if it’s telegraphed so very clearly, even in Dorothy’s Kansas, land of twisters? Does it?
100 words: SPOILERS (Above)
The book really comes into its own in the second half, after Morley winds up the locked room kidnap horror novel and returns us to the surface. <SPOILERS NO REALLY> She’s had a child, and raised him out of the light, and the reader gets the twist right away – but the poor characters have no idea: Dobbs was right. The world has blown itself apart. Radiation. Disease. Mutation. There are some lovely, tender moments when Blythe knows what has happened, but her son, Adam, doesn’t understand it at all. There’s violence and humanity and – some – redemption, and the meaning of home. </SPOILER> But good?
100 words: The tropes of victimhood
So, there’s this strange dynamic with Blythe, our victim. We can see her go through several stages victimhood: fighting, craftiness, denial, and finally a full Stockholm Syndrome acceptance, complete with child. Eventually there’s even some forgiveness and understanding and – dare I say it, love? It is, perhaps, the emotional arc that the setup demands, but it’s just… troubling, all the way through. The beats are all there, but the journey between them falls flat, feels false, and makes it appear inevitable. This book also suggests that kidnapping a sixteen year-old girl is OK in certain circumstances. Seriously fucked up. Wrong.
100 words: Conclusion
Above is an enjoyable read, but it’s ultimately less than the sum of its parts. It does a decent job of glossing over violence (and particularly sexual violence) without glorifying it – but also, perhaps, without deep investigation, so it may not be triggery for certain readers. It often feels padded and sometimes divorced from its emotion. The big reveal isn’t all that big, and I can’t quite work out what age it’s aimed for: I can’t work out if it’s pandering to older readers or spurring younger readers to face an all-too-real terrible reality. Started with a bang; ended whispery.
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