December 16, 2014

Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Glory O'Brien By A.S. King
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy
See my A.S. King tag

A.S. King has frequently dabbled in magical realism, and GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE brings that aspect of her style to the fore.  When Glory and her 'best friend' Ellie drink a petrified bat (long story), they start seeing visions when they look at people.  Ellie mostly sees domestic histories, but Glory sees a war coming in fifty years - a war over women's right to work, among some other women's rights.

Her work with character is as on point as ever.  Glory has just graduated high school and intends to take a gap year.  Already unsure of what she wants to do next, the fact that she doesn't see anything about her own future deepens her worries about her path in life.  She becomes obsessed with a journal that her mother left behind after committing suicide, a tome full of musings and (haunting) photos and family secrets.  The past, the present, and the future intermingle as Glory discovers all sorts of new connections between the people in her town.

Back to those scare quotes around best friend.  Ellie is a member of a commune run by her mother.  She and Glory haven't truly been close since she left to be homeschooled, but Ellie clings to Glory as her connection to life outside.  Glory is uncomfortable with the divide between them, especially Ellie's greater experience with boys.  I really liked how King explored the fraught relationship between the girls, and what the way they related to each other and their powers meant about them as people.

I didn't always find the future sections convincing.  I mean, the leader of the conservative side of the Second Civil War calls himself Nedrick the Sanctimonious.  Maybe if his enemies called him that ...  I can see the roots in current events, but still thought it was too extreme.  However, the various implications about the length and outcome of the war made it work a little better for me.  It still felt a bit far-fetched and sketchy.  At the same time, it is supposed to be sketchy since Glory only sees the future in intimate flashes.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE will satisfy A.S. King fans, and perhaps draw in some more who are intrigued by the stronger speculative element.  King's agenda is pretty obvious, but tempered by the nuanced way she writes Glory's present-day feminism.


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