That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

“Your Emotions Are at my Mercy” — Jen Brooks’ In a World Just Right

When it comes to thinking about a “That Was Awesome!” moment I had while reading, author Jen Brooks immediately leaps to mind. Her debut novel, a contemporary YA fantasy titled In a World Just Right, packs in so many stunning reveals, moments of prose perfection and uncomfortable emotions that the entire novel is a “That Was Awesome!” experience.

Nonetheless, I can narrow my favorites down to two.

The first, I absolutely refuse to share with you. It’s the final reveal and such a piece of magnificence that you have to see it for yourself. “Masterful” is the right word for how she brings the book to its conclusion. Brooks nails that oft repeated phrase that an ending should be both “unexpected and inevitable.” The reader in me enjoyed the heck out of it, even while my writer side was feeling jealous of her plotting talents.

My “That Was Awesome” moment comes earlier in the book (SPOILER ALERT!). What amazed me in this moment was the way Brooks took the reader’s expectation and turned it on its head. She completely shocked me out of my comfort zone by going with the unexpected, playing off what I thought I saw coming to pull me deeper into the story.

Brooks has built a reality where the main character, Jonathan, not only lives in the real world, but can create his own worlds as well. These are living, breathing worlds that, once set in motion, continue on their own. Jonathan slides between worlds in an unending search to find peace and a place in which to “belong.” (It should be noted that Jonathan is scarred and left basically alone after a tragic accident involving his family).

In the course of his worldbuilding, Jonathan creates a reality that mirrors our own with one exception: in this world, the girl he’s loved from afar for years, Kylie, loves him in return. (Brooks handles this with much more elegance than my pedestrian description implies.)

As the story progresses, events cause that world and our world to start colliding, warping both the “real” Kylie and the “created” Kylie in the process. Jonathan, who loves them both and can’t stand to see them suffer, comes into the information that if he merges the two Kylies, he might be able to save them both. Allegedly, the merging will take the best inside of both Kylies and create a new, unified whole.

Jonathan agonizes over the decision to ask them to merge, knowing there’s a chance either one or both will be destroyed or something worse. When Kylie finally agrees to the merging, we are set up for something amazing and beautiful. After all the agony of indecision and the two Kylies’ descents into quasi-madness, I expected something wonderful.

Well, I got what I expected, but not how I expected it. Instead of the two girls merging with a glow of heavenly light and tinkling bells, we get this:

Blood and skin and hair and clothes and arms and ears run together like the smudge of a wet finger painting. Legs kick out and melt, puddle-like, into each other. Wet slapping sounds. Covers rustling sounds. Another sound like something thick clearing from a clogged drain. A membrane forms around the melted flesh and clothing, keeping the folded colors inside to lap and overlap each other. The pool of Kylies stretches and pulls, and a set of fingers slides down the membrane binding it all, five white fingertips in a dark stew.

It’s disturbing and graphic and shocking and all of a sudden I have no idea how this merging is going to turn out. Brooks silently says, “You’re in my world, reader, and nothing is as simple as it seems.” She takes it deeper, opening up uncertainty where I expected a tidy mini-resolution.

Rhonda Mason divides her time between writing, editing, bulldogs and beaching. Her writing spans the gamut of speculative fiction, from space opera to epic fantasy to urban paranormal and back again. The only thing limiting her energy for fantastical worlds is the space-time continuum. Her debut space opera novel, the first in The Empress Game Trilogy, is available now from Titan Books.


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