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Is a Tree Red?

So...Hogwarts or the Jedi Academy? Make your choice in Charlie Jane Anders All the Birds in the Sky.

Is a Tree Red?

BOOK REPORT for All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Cover Story: Like the Name Says
Drinking Buddy: Ultimate Nerd Crush
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Elevated
Talky Talk: And I Feel Fine
Bonus Factors: Magical Realism, Hubris of Man
Bromance Status: Buddies to the End

Cover Story: Like the Name Says

Lots of birds on that cover. Very literary feel to it. This book won The Nebula Award.

The Deal:

During middle school, two outcasts form an tentative friendship. Shy, nature-loving Patricia and computer nerd Laurence try to survive in a school that's out to destroy them. Separated for ten years, they reunite in San Francisco. No longer awkward children, they're both good looking young people trying to find their way in the world. Dare they act on their blossoming atraction?

Oh, and Patricia is now a powerful witch, while Lawrence is a brilliant scientist of the Frankenstein/Strangelove type. And the witches and scientists are not naturally friends. Can mixed relationships work?

Drinking Buddy: Ultimate Nerd Crush

How could you not fall in love this this pair? Patricia, relentlessly bullied by her older sister, constantly grounded by her abusive parents, and taking refuge in the forest talking to the birds. Laurence, also relentlessly tortured at school, with parents who are determined to make a man out of him, when all he wants to do is tinker with his electronics.

And then they grow up. Laurence, working eighty hour weeks, still unable to lose his childhood self-hate, desperate to please his hot girlfriend, unaware that she is already impressed. Patricia, working among the poor and forgotten of Frisco, reigning in her powers (because curing their HIV would be too suspicious), and wondering why Laurence gets so flustered and awkward around her.

Also, the earth my be headed for a cataclysm that could doom humanity and either the scientists or witches can save everything, at the expense of the other faction. So their friends don't get along.

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Elevated

Yes, there is sex. And it's pretty hot. At the same time, it's more the simmer that got to me. Just kiss the girl already, you fool! You may never have this chance again! Seriously, the whole city is sliding into the Bay...

And then there's the couple's side projects. Patricia, leading a commando raid on a Russian drilling project. Laurence and his team, opening wormholes and creating rifts in the very fabric of space and time. Secret underground bunkers and teams of witch terrorists. Interesting bookstores and Red Dwarf references. Parliaments of birds. Self-aware digital devices with a romantic streak. And hipsters. Lots of hipsters.

Talky Talk: And I Feel Fine

This is a book that takes you on an emotional roller coaster. Both our heroes have childhoods so rough that the Brothers Grimm might say 'Hang on, don't you think that's a bit much?' Then, when they both land on their feet as young adults, their happiness is constantly interrupted. There's Laurence's girlfriend, the demands of work, and the whole collapse of civilization.

With alternating viewpoint chapters, we get a good look at their motivations. Laurence and his crew think salvation lies with technology, no matter what the tree hugging goddess worshipers think. Patricia and her crowd think that it was science that destroyed the planet in the first place, and all that comes from technology is a bigger and better death ray. With the doomsday clock ticking and all of humanity on the line, who can save the day?

Also, there are talking trees, birds, and computers. I love stuff like that.

Bonus Factor: Magical Realism

Patricia and Laurence live in our world, maybe a decade into the future. But in this universe, magic and super technology are everyday things. Sure, maybe the average Joe on the street is unaware, but if you know the right people, you're in. As a child, Patricia could talk to birds--but only when she gorged on so much hot sauce that steam was practically coming out of her ears. While in middle school, Laurence invented a time machine--that could only go two seconds into the future. As Patricia and Laurence try to sort out the clumsy details of their personal lives, it's amusing that they do it while spawning wormholes and force-curing junkies. And that wouldn't have been the same in Narnia or Alderaan.

Bonus Factor: The Hubris of Man

As the picture above shows, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Patricia's eco-liberation raids result in a tragedy. Laurence accidentally gets a coworker sucked into another dimension and has to call on Patricia to save her. At what price wisdom? At what price enlightenment? At what price peace?

Bromance Status: Buddies to the End

I wasn't sure what to think of this 'literary' book when I started it, but we quickly bonded. This is a friendship that will last through the end of all things (two or three weeks from now).

Literary Matchmaking:

 

• For another story blending magic and technology, try The Glass Spare, by Lauren DeStefano.

• Or The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill.

• Or J.D. Brink's Tarnish.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor the secrets of the universe for writing this review.

 

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.