About the Book

Title: Nation
Published: 2008
Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Cover Story: Inoffensive
BFF Charm: Double Yay!
Talky Talk: He Said, She Said, They Said
Bonus Factors: Diversity, Desert Island, Keith Mars Award for Awesome Dadhood, Science vs. Religion
Relationship Status: Surprisingly Successful Blind Date

Cover Story: Inoffensive

This cover does absolutely nothing for me. In fact, I think it’s a little ugly, and that tagline is kind of stupid. But between the Printz Honor Medal that was on my cover and Terry Pratchett’s legitimizing name stamped across the top, I didn’t feel like I needed to hide this behind a magazine to go out in public.

The Deal:

Mau is headed back to his village to celebrate his becoming a man, when a tsunami wipes out his entire village. He is the sole survivor, left to bury everyone he has ever known and try to survive himself.

Daphne might be queen someday, if only 139 other people would die first, but she is much more interested in the recently released On the Origin of Species and sailing to the other side of the world to escape her overbearing, social-climbing grandmother. Daphne is en route to see her father when her ship is caught in the same tsunami that destroyed Mau’s village and leaves her the sole survivor of the shipwreck on his island.

Daphne and Mau are first left to try to understand each other’s language and customs, but they quickly find themselves the unlikely teenage leaders of a hodge-podge community of refugees arriving on the island. As they struggle to step into their matriarchal and patriarchal roles, respectively, they must face not only survival, but much bigger questions about history, religion, and the universe.

BFF Charm: Double Yay!

2 BFF charms

Mau, you’re a really good kid. You were in such a hurry to grow up before the tsunami, but now that everyone you know is dead, you’re not so sure where you stand on the boyhood-manhood spectrum. You’re the only one left on the island, but you still focus on rebuilding and preserving your cultural heritage. I just want to give you a big hug and make you take a nap, and then when you’re well-rested, we can argue about religion together.

But Daphne. GIRL. I love you so much! You are like Anne Shirley and Harriet the Spy and all my other childhood heroes rolled up into one. You start out so charmingly clueless after the shipwreck, fretting over the etiquette of inviting Mau to tea and wondering if the corpse of Poor Captain Roberts will count as an appropriate chaperone. And by the end of the book, you’re wearing grass skirts and brewing beer and teaching yourself how to amputate legs with only an 18th century maritime surgery book as your guide. Which, while horrifying from a medical perspective, you work with what you have, and the guy totally survives. If I had to be stranded on a desert island with one of you, you’d totally be my first choice, even though Mau might be more useful to my hypothetical survival.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2.5

Daphne and Mau are much too busy worrying about things like survival and the meaning of life to focus on sexy times, but they do share a couple of nice moments. I bumped up the rating another half a point for the epilogue, which was sweet.

Talky Talk: He Said, She Said, They Said

Most of the story shifts back and forth between Mau and Daphne’s perspectives. I had a difficult time getting into Mau’s head at the beginning. Pratchett’s writing for Mau is very poetic, but Mau’s fixation on his religion and culture make his parts challenging to dive into immediately.

Daphne’s style, on the other hand, is a lot more familiar to me and was easier read. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also hilarious.

It was just some kind of a knack, Cahle had said, or at least had partly said and partly gestured, and that being able to make beer so well meant she would be able to get a very fine husband. Her getting married still seemed to be the big topic of discussion in the Place. It was like being in a Jane Austen novel, but one with far less clothing.

But then Pratchett does the coolest thing! As the book progresses and Mau and Daphne get to know each other and learn each other’s languages, their narratives merge together until they’re almost indistinguishable except by pronouns. Daphne starts having her own religious dialogues with the gods, and Mau begins to think more scientifically and practically, like Daphne. The shift snuck up on me when I was reading, but makes perfect sense in retrospect.

Occasionally, we also get the perspective of some seafaring minor character, which was a little too Pirates of the Caribbean for my liking. Luckily, these sections are few and far between, and we get back to Mau and Daphne pretty quickly.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

This is not your typical story about diversity, but diversity definitely plays a huge part in the book. I loved how open Mau and Daphne are to understanding each other’s cultures and customs, while most of the adults in the story are total dicks about the whole thing. Typical.

Bonus Factor: Deserted Island

One of my favorite movies growing up was Swiss Family Robinson because 1) they built all these cool things to not only survive, but improve their quality of life and 2) um, hello! COCONUT BOMBS! But mostly I loved it for that first reason (j/k you and I both know it was the coconut bombs). Now I don’t know if you’ve watched Swiss Family Robinson lately, but it is no longer socially acceptable for me to love that movie because I now realize that it is CRAZY OFFENSIVE, so I’m always in the market for new desert island stories.

Bonus Factor: Keith Mars Award for Awesome Dadhood

Keith Mars hugging his daughter, Veronica Mars

Daphne’s dad is the best. He teaches her to learn about Darwin and study atlases and question everything around her, which is pretty revolutionary thinking for a 19th century nobleman to be encouraging in his teenage daughter. Sometimes he lets his horrible mother walk all over him, but eventually he grows a spine and puts her in her place (that place, apparently, is America. Look out, Boston Socialites!)

Bonus Factor: Science vs. Religion

You guyyyyssss. I wanted to put at least five more bonus factors here, like The Royal Society and Daphne’s Horrible Grandmother and Disloyal Pet and Losing My Religion, but I had to reign myself in with just four. But my favorite part of this book is definitely Mau’s struggle with religion, Daphne’s obsession with science, and the collision of those two lines of thinking. I could argue religion with this book ALL DAY. If you’re someone who has ever questioned your faith or pondered theology at all, go read this book right now

Relationship Status: Surprisingly Successful Blind Date

Book, when my friend’s mom set us up together, I had pretty low expectations for our date. “I don’t know anything about this book, but I met it at a book swap, and it’s a little young for me, but I know you’re kind of a book cougar, so I thought you two might like to go out sometime,” is hardly a ringing endorsement. Plus, you looked like you might be kind of doofy with that picture of a pirate ship and an aboriginal type hiding in the jungle. But I like a free dinner as much as the next lady, so I figured, hey, why not. And then you were kind of funny and interesting and we got into a super deep conversation about religion, and well, you surprised me, book! So while I don’t think we’re going to get married or anything, I’ll probably let you buy me dinner again.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Nation is available now.

Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.