Some of you may remember that Fama’s much praised and beloved Monstrous Beauty and I did not get along. At all. For me, that book was like a train wreck, I finished it because I just couldn’t look away from the mess.
But (yes, there is a but!), I have to hand huge props to Elizabeth Fama who reached out to me after I posted one of my nastier reviews, and never once told me I was wrong in my opinion. She only wanted to discuss where she was coming from in the book, and did so in such a resoundingly positive way that I became a massive fan of the author, even if I really disliked Monstrous Beauty itself (I’ll take a sec here to remind you that many many people did love Monstrous Beauty, so don’t let my experience hold you back if you’re thinking of going there).
At any rate, Fama’s awesome attitude convinced me to give her another go, so when Plus One rolled around I (somewhat shakily) raised my hand to volunteer.
I sat myself down, put on my analytical hat, and cracked open Plus One fully expecting to cringe and nit-pick it to pieces. But you know, as nicely as possible. The shocker was I fell into the story so hard that by the time I picked myself up I had virtually nothing to complain about. The little things that bugged me at the beginning of the story (like a hero named D’Arcy *insert epic eye roll here*) all had legit reasons for being what they were (that have nothing to do with Jane Austen). Sure, it’s the type of tale that takes a suspension of disbelief—we are reading alternative history speculative fiction here after all—but Fama made me believe it, and I found myself more than willing to go there with her.
Okay let’s talk set up. Plus One takes place today, but with the idea that when the influenza pandemic hit in 1918 the world became (mostly) split into Night and Day routines. Assigning people to subsist in the working world only during either daylight or nighttime hours allowed for less crowding, more coverage, and an easier healing from the sickness. And, since the system seemed to work, they stuck with it after the pandemic. As Fama pointed out to me, this idea isn’t really any more ridiculous than a world in which women aren’t allowed to vote or where black and white school children must be segregated. The world of Plus One thrives on a “separate but equal” mentality—but as we jolly well know by now, separate but equal isn’t equal. However, because of this background, Fama’s scientific, biological, and technological advances in Plus One seem rock solid and believable; the world of Plus One is both well researched and hauntingly vivid.
My favorite part of the world of Plus One? That the story isn’t about overhaul. Indeed, at this point I’m utterly sick of the dystopian revolution tales that have flooded the young adult shelves over the past five years. Plus One is anything but. Instead, it is a steadily rising cry for change, for acknowledgement, for a better future. Plus One embraces the unrest in more subtle undertones. Certainly it’s there, but it’s not the core concern of two seventeen-year-old kids. To them, Plus One is a desperate and selfish story of family, love, and desire on such a personal level that the outside world only interferes by force.
As one might guess from this premise and the gorgeous cover, it has shades of your classic Romeo and Juliet type tale between Sol and D’Arcy, a Smudge (night schedule) and Day Boy respectively. This tale could have easily been grounds for much gagging and heavy sighs on my part, but Fama manages to develop their relationship in such a way that it brought on neither of these things. Both Sol and D’Arcy get to become fully actualized beings in our eyes well before they become so in one another’s, and with the romance playing background to the tense strain of the main action, it never falls out of balance or twinges of the dreaded insta-love.
I love that Fama made Sol work for my affection. She’s not a likable heroine—she’s manipulative, impulsive, and selfish—but none of these things distracts from the gripping pace of the story. Ever so slowly, Sol worms her way under your skin until you want to hold on to her ever so tightly. She’s smart, selfless despite initial impressions, and loves in a fierce way that forces everyone she cares for to be better. Sol only knows emotions in the extreme, but she utilizes these extremes for those around her, willing to tear herself down if it means happiness for those she loves.
The rest of the cast is painted just as vividly. We know Sol’s brother and grandfather intimately long before we come into contact with either, and we want nothing more than for that one happy moment of reunion. The Noma are frightening and intriguing, the parents are real and present in their children’s lives, and each character is given depth through their connections. Plus One is a book in which the enemy has no one face, because even the enemies become too real for us to see them as anything but human beings. Cunningly, Fama manages to make this simple story matter to us in the same way that “Day Boy” and “Plus One” slowly become human and real to one another.
Readers will flip through the pages of the novel with a nervous ball of tension roiling in their stomachs. If it doesn’t quite cause can’t-sleep levels of stress, it does bring about that absolute need to carve out large chunks of time to sit and read until the end is reached. Plus One is entertaining, insightful, and a much-needed fresh take on a societal story that was getting old. It’s ending is so perfectly rendered; it alone had me jumping for joy at it’s perfect realness, a quality sorely lacking in so many Young Adult books today. Simply put, Plus One easily makes my shortlist for 2014 favorites thus far.
You win this round, Elizabeth Fama. Just don’t get cocky.