Tag Archives: corinne duyvis

Things in Print Thursday :: monthly big queer book review [Otherbound]

27 Jul

Jumping right into July’s big queer book since June’s entries were posted so late.

Otherbound is the first novel by Corinne Duyvis, author of my much-loved On the Edge of Gone. Corinne Duyvis is queer and autistic and runs Disability in Kidlit online, and as I knew from the other novel there is a significant commitment to diversity! I wasn’t sure how that was going to pan out in Otherbound because it’s largely in a fantasy setting (where diversity is always… interesting) but never fear, there’s plenty to be found.

There are two protagonists to this story, whose points of view alternate: Nolan, a Mexican-American teenage boy in present-day Arizona (his father and sister also study Nahuatl, a native Aztec language), and Amara, a teenage servant girl in the fantasy-world Dunelands. Nolan has the ability to slip into Amara’s world and consciousness, which everyone around him perceives as epileptic seizures, and he also uses a prosthetic after losing part of one of his legs in a “seizure”-related accident; Amara is a healing servant, which means that her magical ability to heal is exploited to aid the princess she serves (who suffers from a curse that makes her essentially able to be killed by the slightest injury, which is of itself a chronic problem), and like all servants in her world her tongue was cut because they’re not permitted to speak, which means she communicates in sign language. Additionally, the princess, Cilla, is explicitly characterized as being not a white person (the terms used are all fantastical because of the world, but she’d be played – hopefully – by a dark-skinned black girl in a screen adaptation) and a large number of the other characters are as well. So, A+ right out of the gate.

And much like the story deals with physical diversity without fussing (Nolan’s disabilities are prominent, but because they affect his life and his family, and Amara is consciously aware that she signs instead of speaking, but the only one to characterize them as DIsabled People is a villain) it also deals with the b-word. Bisexuality! I don’t actually remember if it says the word in the text of the novel but it did win an award for bisexual rep and that’s on the back cover, so there’s no denying it. Amara is attracted to both male and female characters, and though there is some contention given the individual characters, there’s none regarding her orientation; there are also no explicit love triangles, which is a relief.

The actual story is compelling; the Dunelands are, as could be expected, fraught with peril, and both Amara and Nolan-in-Amara have to navigate all manner of surprises. The few big plot reveals can’t be spoiled without, well, spoiling things entirely; what can be said is that the action is heavily focused on the second half of the story. In order to familiarize the reader with these parallel worlds, the first few chapters are very slice-of-life, which isn’t bad but bears mention. The magic is specific but not so complicated one can’t wrap one’s head around it, and the parameters of the universe are understandable once explained.

I will also say, though – I kept sort of expecting something gross to come of a teenage boy being sometimes in a teenage girl’s body. It didn’t, really. There’s mention of some voyeurism, which once she realizes Amara is understandably upset about, but the narrative is refreshingly respectful. (I’m sure this is because the author isn’t male; I’m not saying it’s impossible for men to write female protagonists but it is much more likely to get sketchy fast.)

Overall, a good go! I like Duyvis’ other work better, probably because I relate to it more closely, but this was very entertaining and in parts compelling enough that I abandoned my daily page limit to find out what happened next.

–your fangirl heroine.



Things in Print Thursday :: monthly book review [On the Edge of Gone]

12 May

So okay. I am significantly late posting my April book review, because I was significantly late finishing my April book, because I didn’t get it recc’d until late in the month, then finding it, then I was finishing my final projects for school. But here goes.

I really, really liked this book. It was exactly what I was looking for in a book with an autistic protagonist: one, about a girl, because I’m a literary misandrist and have a much easier time reading about girls, two, not grimdark, three, not only about the character’s autism and how it makes them Different.  Because here’s the thing.  That’s true, autistic and allistic people are different in some pretty fundamental ways, but when the narrative is centered around that difference and nothing else, an us vs. them mentality is created, and that’s ultimately damaging and incorrect.

I’ve been reading about autism in the last couple of years, just information-wise.  A lot of this is to do with my drift partner, but a lot of it eventually also had to do with a sense of oh that all makes sense to me now about myself.  The most official thing I’ve had said is I have “autism-flavored OCD” but whatever, there are days when that flavor feels really pervasive.  Isn’t that the silliest way of putting it?  Basically, I’m too adaptable and good at pretending things for a DSM-V diagnosis, and yeah, that makes sense, in part because the DSM-V is imperfect, but there’s something there, somewhere.

Anyway.  That was personal and confessional and I debated not including it at all, but also it’s important to explaining why I loved this book so absolutely much.  For starters, this book wins the diversity lottery.  I won’t list off every single instance, but Denise, the autistic teenage protagonist, is half-Surinamese, half-Dutch.  This book is set in Amsterdam, which makes it in my opinion more interesting than the 20,000th apocalypse setting in New York or something.  Nothing against New York, but.

Yeah.  This is an apocalypse book.  Denise and her mom have to find shelter before a comet hits the Earth and after that find her sister before the shelter, a ship, goes into space.  There’s destruction and injury and death.  There’s unpleasant imagery that could be triggering.  But, as I said above, this book is not grimdark!

Here’s another cool thing: the a-word isn’t even used until something like 40 pages in.  It’s on the book jacket, but still.  The reader has a chance to get to know Denise, her preferences and habits and interests, without the label being constantly thrown around.  Aspects of her autism are discussed: her special interest (cats), her history of behavior problems and problematic stims, how difficult it was to get her diagnosed because girls aren’t as easily diagnosed (true), how difficult it is to cope with things like interacting with others sometimes.  She gets a job on board the ship helping relay information to everyone’s tabs (which seem to be like touchscreen projection watches) and revels in organizing and reorganizing it, proofing it and editing it and making it right, and I wanted to shriek with joy because I feel the same way about information that’s why I’m being a librarian.

She gets upset about keeping relationships (her mother and sister) and making them too (her mentor, her eventual friends on board – one of whom she finds cute, but doesn’t ultimately romance with) and about the overwhelming nature and facts of the apocalypse, but she continually proves how valuable she is on the usefulness-based ship (at one point so much so that someone suggests she isn’t even autistic because autistic people can’t do that, which made me go hmmm) and what’s more, she makes people think about things they might not because she sees things the way others might not.  And she’s likable!  She’s easy to understand and I think even an allistic person would be able to relate to her at least some of the time.

Also, Corinne Duyvis, the author, is autistic herself.  So that’s helpful.  It’s not stilted or pandering and that’s what I was afraid of.  Over-researched, un-genuine storytelling.  I don’t know, I guess what I’m getting at is this was just a very successful read for me.

–your fangirl heroine.