So the official Blogging for Books instruction email explicitly states that I’m not supposed to start my review talking about how I got a free book. Normally I follow instructions but because this is the first time doing this I want to talk about what this whole thing is, why I’m reviewing this book (aside from: it looked interesting), and how you can get involved if you’re interested.
Blogging for Books is a site that matches bloggers with books. The books are free as long as you promise to review. Signing up is also free and easy, but you must provide a blog- your Facebook and Goodreads sites do not count (I am unsure if a Tumblr would count though). Once you’ve filled out some preferences it gives you some recommendations- select what you think is the most interesting and request it in print, ebook, or both (ebooks only to anyone outside the US).
This isn’t the kind of program that’s really going to help me chisel away at my “to-read” list. These are mostly new books, not all of them well-known (at least, not that I’ve seen in fiction, it does differ from category to category). Perhaps because I spend so much time on Tumblr, I decided that I’m going to aim to review books written by women, especially ones that aren’t western-centric (if nothing meeting that criteria is available I’ll just pick something else). It also helped that, of the books recommended for me, the one meeting that criteria was the most interesting sounding (ok, so maybe I picked this book and then decided to apply a method to my madness. Regardless, I think the author would approve).
Monica Byrne is quiet the accomplished person, having an MS in Geochemistry from freaking MIT. Her site contains no official bio, just her CV (where I pulled the geochem fact) and a mission: “There’s an infinite number of stories to tell. I intend to tell as many as I can. The universe is big.” and a blog. So based solely on summaries of the book (writing this pre-reading) The Girl in the Road is a science fiction novel following two women Meena in India and Mariama on the African continent as they travel to Ethiopa. There is an assassination attempt and an “energy harvesting” bridge across the Arabian Sea. The two stories are intertwined even though they are not happening simultaneously.
So now onto the basic and the post-reading review (I’m going to try and be spoiler free):
The book is classified as sci-fi, which is a genre I don’t read a lot of as I have a hard time finding sci-fi (and fantasy) books the I find to be enjoyable, not overly convoluted, and not part of a series (when I find out something is part of a series my desire to read it drops by about 70%. This is a recent-ish development). The Girl in the Road is, however, soft-sci-fi. It’s not truly post-apocalyptic and doesn’t describe a totalitarian government (though those issues seem to be touched upon). The focus of the story isn’t the fancy technology or even the energy harvesting. This is a story about our two unreliable narrators (Meena and Mariama) and their journeys. Meena is escaping from what she perceives to be an assassination attempt, and Mariama is trying to find safety and family.
While the focus is only on two characters, this book still offers a diverse cast. Set in India and Africa the characters are POC, there are LGBT characters and because of the “sci-fi” nature of all this, we are in a world where these issues are treated as mundane, except for some residual homophobia by the older generation. There are no prominent white people in the book, though colonization and racism are still explored in a different light.
The biggest pros of this book are how well constructed it is. Alternating chapters are easy to follow (books with alternating perspectives that jump around with what pattern of narrators they are using drive me batty). The technology is not the focus so it’s presented in a clear way without a lot of exposition about what the things do and how/why they were developed. Even the “trail” that Meena walks is explained in a way that is clear without being over the top.
Byrne is absolutely and undeniably a skilled writer, her craft is good.
There are cons, as well. I was not crazy about most of the sex as described in the book- this book is not erotica and the sex isn’t extremely graphic or anything, but I don’t think anything would have been lost by cutting a lot of them. Meena is established as an unreliable narrator almost immediately, and that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes I found her just a little too paranoid, over the top, and hard to tolerate (overall I liked the character though). Several of the “twists” felt very obvious to me right from the beginning, but like the trail this book was about the journey to the end. Which I found a little confusing. There were parts that I read and re-read and still said “huh” and some of the terms used I was not sure if they were Googleable words in foreign languages or created futuristic lingo.
I did not love this book. I am not going to run around and tell all my friends “you must read this book!” However, I did like this book, and I will absolutely recommend it to specific, targeted people. If you are someone who likes hard sci-fi, this is not for you. If you’re open to soft sci-fi and like character driven pieces, appreciate diversity in literature, this is a book you absolutely must read. It was intriguing, engaging, and not at all satisfying in the end, but still a great ride.
Official Random House page for Monica Byrne: http://www.randomhouse.com/author/184168/monica-byrne
Official Random House page for The Girl in the Road: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/233838/the-girl-in-the-road-by-monica-byrne
(I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)