Molly Bolt has a strong sense of self. Despite collecting a vast number of labels from the people around her as she grows up in the 1970’s - ‘bastard’, ‘orphan’, ‘lesbian’, ‘queer’, ‘spic’, ‘ugly’, ‘monogamous’, ‘housewife’, ‘loud’ - she is unphased, and takes delight in throwing them all aside to focus on her passions. Readers who have ever felt judged or discriminated against will find freedom in Rubyfruit Jungle as Molly charges ahead of us all, living her life as she pleases and fiercely dismissing anyone who dares disapprove of her; leaving an open road behind her for others like us to walk down.
For any of you who love 80’s nostalgia, this novel is a true monster mash of The Exorcist, Heathers, and The Breakfast Club. It explores the love, horror and intensity of teenage female friendships, and how difficult it can sometimes be to tell between a demon-possessed high school student, and one who’s simply hit puberty.
The theme for ‘The Institute’ seems to be that great events turn on small axes. For decades, children showing TP (telepathic) or TK (telekinetic) abilities have been stolen from their homes and transported to the Institute Facility, and subjected to tests and experiments to increase their powers. To escape, they must learn to work together to overturn the evil that captured them.
Roger and Dodger are twins. Roger has a way with words, and Dodger a way with numbers. But they have no idea of their real connection - all they know is that one day, from across the world, they start to communicate telepathically. McGuire has created a solid and intriguing fantasy world, a dark but hopeful twist of science and gods and quantum entanglement and powers related to math and words.
Much like Silas’ delicate butterflies, suspended in presentation, each character tries to hold onto this attachment to beauty, but all find that it starts to decay as the story becomes more intertwined and the stakes increase. Silas takes the most drastic action to try to suspend and enjoy that beauty - and that’s what really ramps up the pace of the novel at the end.
‘Now is the hour’ is set in 1967, and opens on a highway with Rigby Klusener, seventeen years old, with a suitcase and a flower behind his ear, trying to hitch a ride to San Francisco. We know he’s left behind a pregnant friend, his best four-legged friend and that he has a broken heart. We realise that this is almost the end of the story, and there’s much to learn about why Rigby is there, and how he got to this point.
‘Little eyes’ is an exploration of the relationship between people and technology - a commentary on privacy, intimacy and loneliness. It leaves you unnerved with its striking familiarity. Now with the reality of tech having reached and surpassed the possibilities explored by old-school science fiction, this novel feels profound. Like science-fiction meets psychology; like Philip K. Dick but more insidious, and far more fluffy.
‘Whistle in the Dark’ was really a beautiful surprise. The premise is interesting from the get-go - Jen is a woman dealing with the lingering threat of her fifteen-year-old daughter Lana’s disappearance. In the first few sentences, we learn that Lana has been found alive after four days missing alone in the Lake District. She can’t (or won’t) tell anyone what happened or where she was, leaving her confused family to consider the worst.
The novel is painful to read; not only because it reflects the truth of oppression and racial division in this era (and the concern that many of us feel about Trump’s election and whether that shows a regression towards a more divisive society today too), but also because it expertly dangles hope in front of the reader.
It isn’t the plot that makes this novel special. It lacks much action at all, in fact - but this is a deliberate attempt to direct us alongside Jernigan as he makes a series of bad or passive decisions to draw out the repetitive, unfulfilling life that he admits he would much rather not be living. Instead of focusing on drama, Gates spends the majority of the book focusing on the intricacies of his character, showing redemptive compassion for his introspective, self-pitying protagonist, as he tries to rationalize his own terrible behavior.