Otherbound - Corine Duyvis

[Note: This review contains some discussion that some might feel to be spoilers]

This is a great book. There's no other way to say it, really. It's just great! I had the privilege of meeting Corinne in Las Vegas, recently, at the American Library Association Stonewall Awards brunch. It was a thrill, I must say! But now I should probably move on to the actual review instead of gushing.
In the world of the Dunelands, Amara was sleeping.
Striding through the Walgreens aisles, Nolan wished he could do the same—just curl up in bed, shut his eyes, and see nothing but the insides of his eyelids.
No: see nothing but the insides of Amara's eyelids. He hadn't seen his own in years.
If he hurried, he could buy the notebooks and get home before Amara woke up. 
Otherbound opens with Nolan, a young man who can't seem to get a break from having his life interrupted whenever he closes his eyes. With each blink, and with each moment that he tries to sleep, his mind is invaded by another world in which a young servant named Amara, is trying to protect a cursed princess from dying.

Nolan's parents think he is suffering from epileptic seizures, and he can't tell them the truth about what's really happening. Amira is suffering at the hands of a mage who may be working for one of her enemies. Throughout all of this, Nolan begins to discover that he can do things; Nolan learns to control Amira, to take over her body when he visits her world in his mind. With Amira on the run and Nolan trying to navigate his own life, the two find themselves getting mixed up in some very dangerous situations.

Besides his moments of blankness in his own world, Nolan also has a prosthetic leg. What I love about the treatment of this in Duyvis' book is that it's not made into a huge deal. In fact, it's introduced in a rather innocuous way:
Another blink. Nolan went from stalking through the aisles to—dragged along, legs tangled and kicking—and when his eyes opened and he snapped back to his own world, he stumbled. His prosthetic foot slid out from under him before he could get a grip. Nolan caught himself on the nearest rack, sending metal rattling against metal.
I'm not surprised, though, as Duyvis is one of the founding members of the blog, Disability in Kidlit, which focuses on representations of disability in literature for children and teen readers. This passion for finding nuanced and complex representations of disability is one that, I feel, translate beautifully into this novel. In addition to Nolan's prosthetic leg, Amara is unable to speak, and so much of her speaking is done through sign language, something which puts an extra layer of complexity into her story, especially when emergencies pop up and speech would benefit the situation. But again, it is a part of Amara instead of a downfall or a "problem" throughout the novel.

There is also a level of queerness in this novel, which of course just makes me that much more excited, as queer YA is my own passion. Positive portrayals of LGBT individuals are definitely becoming easier to find, but they are still not all that abundant, especially where female protagonists are concerned. So this is yet one more thing to love about Otherbound. And as if it couldn't get any more complex and diverse, Duyvis' characters deal with race and power dynamics! *swoon*
Cilla's tongue tickled her lips. Amara parted them to allow Cilla in. She'd never felt this, never once. Her hands held Cilla tighter. And she might be imagining it--might just be wishing--but Cilla tasted like the fennel seeds Captain Olym had given them to chew on.
Beautiful and sweet and wonderful. I wasn't sure how romance would blossom, but there you have it!

Though the opening portions of the novel are very much based on character-building and emotional development, and is therefore sometimes seen as slow in terms of pacing (I found myself having to push a bit to get through the first few chapters), the novel ultimately builds up to a solid pace. The connection between Amara and Nolan is very nicely built up throughout the progression of the narrative(s), and though their reactions to each other are not always pleasant, Duybis gives them both incredible depth and makes them each sympathetic to her readers.

This certainly doesn't feel like a debut novel. And while it is not perfect (I mean, what book is, right?!), it is a solid first book with a lot to love. Check it out!



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