Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

It takes guts to deliberately mutilate your hand while operating a blister-pack sealing machine, but all I had going for me was guts.

Sol Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller in an America rigidly divided between people who wake, live, and work during the hours of darkness and those known as Rays who live and work during daylight. Impulsive, passionate, and brave, Sol deliberately injures herself in order to gain admission to a hospital, where she plans to kidnap her newborn niece—a Ray—in order to bring the baby to visit her dying grandfather. By violating the day-night curfew, Sol is committing a serious crime, and when the kidnap attempt goes awry it starts a chain of events that will put Sol in mortal danger, uncover a government conspiracy to manipulate the Smudge population, and throw her together with D'Arcy BenoĆ®t, the Ray medical apprentice who first treats her, then helps her outrun the authorities—and with whom she is fated to fall impossibly and irrevocably in love.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights—and a compelling, rapid-fire romantic adventure story.

Hardcover, 373 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

This book started off real well, which a main character with a lot of personality and with an interesting concept for a dystopian.  It fell apart somewhere in the middle.  Plus One takes place in a dystopian Chicago where people are separated into Day and Night classes.  People are not allowed to mix between each or even be outside during hours not approved for them.  Sol is a Smudge, a night dweller, with a pension for trouble.  She lives with her kindly (and dying) grandfather and used to live with her older brother, Ciel. While Sol was in her younger teens, Ciel was transferred to Day class to never be seen from again. Since then Sol gets word that her brother had a baby.  The story begins with Sol setting off with plans to kidnap said baby so her grandfather can hold the child once before he dies.

With the cover and blurb, I was surprised that the romance was not more a part of the story.  For more than half of the book, it is non-existent.  For some readers, that may be more of what they are looking for.  With the cover and implications of the blurb, I was expecting a more emotional dystopian story like Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  That is not Plus One.  Plus One is more about half baked kidnapping plans and terrorist plottings than anything else.  What the blurb doesn't tell you is that Sol's plan goes awry and she gets swept up a conspiracy that could shake her world.  It's jarring to read a book that is completely outside of your expectations.  But really, that is all marketing's fault and the team did not do the book justice.

Even though the book was not what I was expecting, I did enjoy it at first.  I thought it read really well and that Sol was interesting, even if her plan was a little undeveloped in her mind.  But the story quickly spiraled into something else: a hot mess of family drama, escapades in Iowa, and more plans that shouldn't work but somehow do.

The back story of the system's origins came from hospitals having day/night shifts, and thus resulting in better work flow and producing power.  I thought the idea that economics and productivity could create a divided society such as this was profound.  Especially with the setting choice of Chicago, made to be one of America's biggest cities because of booming business, I thought it could be plausible.  For a minute.  While I thought the idea of this Day versus Night class system was cool, it seemed so weakly put together it was unbelievable it could have lasted so long.  Maybe in one city in one country, but it not the entire world.   

Everything felt about to collapse at any moment within the story -- and not just the system, but the whole book.  The world building was just so fragile, it might as well have been a house of cards and desperately needed to be elaborated on.  Hour Guards are mentioned, but not explained.  They do random checks on people to see if they are breaking curfew, but what power do they have?  Are they police or are they KGB?  Do they have any kind of enforcement power?  There is a Night Minister, but that role is not fully explained.  The dystopian aspect of this world was skimmed over; it's never clear what is holding this system together.  There’s very little tyranny in this supposedly oppressive society.

Even with less than stellar world building and story that came out of left field, I really liked Sol as a character.  She is smart, impulsive, and full of life.  Her snark is the sunlight of this novel.  However, that is the book's only saving grace.  D'Arcy, the day-dwelling love interest, had no spark to his personality, and the relationship between him and Sol was a fickle match that burned out before the plot even began.  His motivations are never clear or make sense, and he just wasn't enough to hold a candle with Sol. The myriad of other characters were just... I don't even know.  Blah.  They were a blah blur. It felt like random characters were being thrown at the reader in this whirlwind of story.  And not a good whirlwind of story; it's a backwards tornado with a bunch of things that don't belong together.

Without Sol's unrelenting personality, I would have given this book one star.  The story is a bit of mess, the world building was less than stellar, and I just didn't like it.  I was bored.  Plus One earns the stars it does with its good writing and interesting main character, but it wasn't enjoyable.  I read the entire book out of stubbornness, purely.  It really did nothing for this review, because as I kept reading I only got more upset at myself for continuing to read.  Just... ARGH.

Final Thought: 2 out of 5 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

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