Above by Isla Morley
Expected Publication: 4 March 2014 by Gallery Books
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Genre/s: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Source: Publisher for review
In the bestselling vein of Room and The Lovely Bones, a stunning and harrowing novel about a Kansas teenager who is abducted and locked away in an abandoned missile silo by a survivalist who believes he is saving her from the impending destruction of the world.
Blythe focuses on finding a way to escape until she discovers that she also has to deal with crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of her captor, and the persistent temptation to give up. Nothing, however, prepares her for the burden of having to raising a child in confinement.
Out of fear, she pushes aside the truth about a world her son may never see for a myth that just might give meaning to his life underground. But when fate intervenes, Blythe and her son manage to re-emerge, only to find themselves in a world even more terrifying than the one they left behind.
The synopsis for Above was pretty much an instant sell for me - along with the cover that I think it all kinds of awesome, I knew that I had to read this book. Although I tried to ignore the comparison to Room and The Lovely Bones because comparisons rarely work for me personally, having loved Room and liked The Lovely Bones I was really looking forward to Blythe's story.
Morley starts the story when Blythe is abducted, which is the first thing I really appreciated about Above - there's no long-winded lead up and goes straight into the storyline rather than setting a scene. The only problem was that I actually didn't like Blythe all that much at the beginning - she's incredibly naive and doesn't really seem to take her situation seriously for the first few days and although it could have been explained away by shock and confusion, I didn't respect or admire the way she reacted. We were off to a bad start in the reader-character relationship.
What Morley does very well with Blythe's character however, is capture how being isolated from the rest of the world stunts her emotional growth. Which is also hard to explain without giving away major parts of the plot, but it comes back into play later in the story when she misses some very obvious clues about things that are happening around her. It could have been a frustrating experience, but it's so convincing that I could really appreciate the intricacy of creating such a character.
There are also large time jumps in the plot that I was a little disappointed in - jumping straight from the first two days to four months later and just mentioning her escape attempts didn't give me the depth of emotion and desperation that I was hoping for.
However, as Blythe's time in the silo progresses, the plot becomes more compelling, dark and at times quite overwhelming in it's intensity. Although her captor isn't violent, he's certainly unstable and his character really adds to the atmosphere - Blythe's constant uncertainty and dancing around Dobbs was almost hypnotising.
The first half of the book focuses solely on Blythe's life in the silo and particularly focuses on her difficult and constantly-changing relationship with Dobbs. At times she fears him, at others is ambivalent and at times she appears to hold all the cards - the relationship is appropriately complex and watching it seesaw between Blythe and Dobbs was a real rollercoaster.
The plot changes direction in the second half of the book when Blythe escapes the silo with her teenage son, Adam. This is also the stage in which I really started to appreciate the story, Blythe's character and the strength of Morley's writing style. Although it's quite flitty in places, it speaks volumes, and in particular Adam's reaction to the world outside the silo shows amazing imagination in portraying how someone would react to the sky, dirt, rocks etc. for the very first time in their lives. Adam's age also means that he puts his fascination into words, which works far better than it would have with a younger character.
I liked the second part far more than the first part, and that's pretty much because I felt the first half dragged just a little too much in places - which sounds ironic given the frequent time jumps, but I was very much ready for more action by the time Blythe left the silo.
The ending was a point of conflict for me - in some ways I thought it was absolutely perfect, but I also felt like a few key plot lines weren't tied up as neatly as I liked. I'm not particular about everything being squared away neatly, but there were a few relationships that didn't feel completely resolved. Overall, Above has a lot of appealing characteristics, despite a few small issues that I think are more personal to me than readers in general.