Friday, December 19, 2008

Book Review: One For Sorrow by Christopher Barzak

I didn't know where I was going at first, but by the time I reached the edge of the woods, I'd figured it out. The rain still fell steadily, and the win crooned through the trees like a song I'd heard my grandma once since. Some song from the old country about a black bird that plucked a baby from its mother's arms and carried it away to the land of the dead. Leaves fell around me, red and gold stars falling through the mist. I pushed my way through the brambles until I could see a wall of twilight ahead where the woods broke and I could almost see the old railroad tracks. His breath was on my neck before I could reach the spot though. I knew it was him before he even said a thing. I felt his breath on my neck, cold and damp, and then his arms were around my stomach like mine with Gracie and before I knew it he had climbed up on my back. "Keep going," he whispered holding tight, and I carried him like that all the way to the place where Gracie found him. --Excerpt from One For Sorrow by Christopher Barzak Barzak's debut novel is a heavy hitter. It's a story of being a teenager in a dysfunctional family, going through the trials of the teenage life, of falling in love and having one's heart ripped out, of being confused about the world and about where you're supposed to be. It's about the emotional roller coaster that is the teenage years, dead friends, first loves, and trying to understand one's place in the world. It's the story of Adam, a fifteen-year-old boy who becomes friends with Jamie, someone much like Adam, but who has been brutally killed. But the longer Adam holds on to his friend, the more he seems to lose his touch with everyone around him. Thus begins an adventure of the emotional and the physical. Perhaps what I most enjoyed about One For Sorrow is the fact that it is different from most everything I have read before. I found the story engrossing and the characters fascinating. I wanted to know from the very start what was going to happen to Adam, what he was going to do to survive it, and how it would all turn out. Essentially, I became emotionally invested in Adam's well being, which is almost always a good thing. I also particularly enjoyed the low-level genre content. The characters took over the story, not the fantastic elements (ghosts, floating out of one's own body, etc.). Most genre work these days is heavily plot oriented, which is great, but it is nice to see some writers pushing the boundaries in the genre. Barzak is certainly pushing the boundaries here by taking genre to a different place from his contemporaries. I found few things to complain about with this book. Sure, it's not perfect. There were times when I literally had to yell at the characters as if they were real people, because they were absolutely driving me nuts with their realistic stupidity. But that's not necessarily a complaint. The only thing I can say might be a problem for some potential readers is that One For Sorrow doesn't pull punches. There's language and graphic scenes of a sexual nature--though not on the same level as erotica. If you're the type of reader that likes stories that sit more on that line of purity, then this isn't a book for you. Neither is it a book for people that like stories where everything is happy, or where the conflict is simplistic or easy on the emotions. One For Sorrow literally goes into the darker points of teenage existence, but not in that "emo" way: it's all disturbingly real and terrifying. These are things to consider when wondering if this book is the right one for you. Then again, I recommend reading it even if you are a bit on the sensitive side; pushing one's boundaries is always a good thing. It's a gloriously complicated story, though. So much so I was rather surprised to find that this was a debut novel rather than a fifth or sixth novel. Barzak has a knack for deep character stories--stories that do what all fiction should be doing: discussing the human. Adam is a character you can root for, because even as things go horribly wrong and he makes loads of mistakes, you can't help wanting everything to turn out okay. Does it? You'll have to read the book to find out exactly what happens, but I would say that you should not expect tidy endings for this novel. If you want a story where the end is all flowers and puppies, this book isn't for you. But if you like leaving things a little open, for good reason, then One For Sorrow may be right up your alley. One For Sorrow is almost like life: the end of every great adventure is the start of another.


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like a powerful novel. I'll check it out more closely.

SciFiGuy said...

Sounds intriguing. Very helpful review. On to the wishlist it goes.