Whether or not I should review books by authors I know on one level or another is something that I struggle with. In the case of Sarah Jamila Stevenson's Underneath, I'm going to come down on the side of saying that I know Sarah too well to really review this one. I did review her previous novel, The Latte Rebellion, but that was a couple of years ago. Since then we've been working together on the Cybils, as well as a couple of other projects. She designed my blog's logo (isn't it beautiful?), and she's been to my house. We're friends, in blog and real terms. So I think this one takes lack of objectivity a bit too far.
But I do want to just tell you about Sarah's new book, and suggest that if the topic piques your interest, you give it a look. Because I liked it! Underneath is paranormal young adult fiction, but just barely. It's set in the real world and features a teenage girl who develops the ability to occasionally read other people's minds, under very specialized circumstances. She calls it "underhearing".
Sunshine “Sunny” Pryce-Shah is, like Sarah herself, the product of an ethnically mixed family. This flavors the book, certainly, but is not what Underneath is about. This makes Underneath perfect for people who are looking for books featuring diverse characters, but don't want to read boring books that are about being diverse (see this post by Sarah's blog partner, Tanita Davis for a much more eloquent and detailed take on this topic).
Underneath isn't even really about Sunny's ability to "underhear", when you get right down to it. It's more about the impact on Sunny and her family of her cousin Shiri's suicide, and about Sunny learning to stand on her own two feet in the absence of the cousin who was like an older sister to her. The underhearing is something else that Sunny has to come to terms with, sure, and a plot device that gives her certain information. But Underneath still feels more like realistic young adult fiction than fantasy. There's a fair bit about high school friendship dynamics, and there's a smidgen of romance. But when I think back on the book, I think more about Sunny and her family.
I'll leave you with a couple of quotes:
"Little did I know how much she really would change. Little did I know that my anger then would be nothing compared to now. When she choked down all that pain medication and drove off into the mountains, did she even think about what would happen to the rest of us? Is she somewhere out there looking down at us regretting what she did, or worse, relieved she's not her? My teeth ache, I'm clenching them so hard." (Chapter Two)
"Hearing thoughts. Whenever I think about it, I get a nervous, gut-churning feeling inside. It's like a sci-fi movie. Except I'm no heroine, and I don't feel powerful. I'm just me, scared and alone. And angry." (Chapter Five)
So, if you like the idea of an emotionally hard-hitting novel about family and teen suicide, mixed with an intriguing supernatural ability, and featuring diverse characters, then Underneath is your book. I hope that you'll check it out, and I hope that you like it. I did.
Publisher: Flux Books (@FluxBooks)
Publication Date: June 8, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle
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