Short Take: Half of a really great book.
I saw Above on another reviewer’s “Best of 2014” list, and the premise intrigued me. I had read both Room by Emma Donoghue and Jaycee Dugard’s autobiography, and really loved both of them. They stuck with me, and made me really think about what I would do in that situation, made me wonder how many young girls are going through something similar right this minute, and managed to make me feel hopeful and heartbroken all at once. So of course, I was excited to dive into this one.
Blythe Hallowell is just 16 when she’s kidnapped by Dobbs Hordin, a religious fanatic, survivalist, doomsday prepper, conspiracy theorist, and all-around creepster of a guy, who just happens to own a missile silo in the middle of Kansas. He imprisons Blythe in the silo, and keeps her there for 18 long years.
During that time, she gives birth to a son, Adam, and constantly tries to figure out how to escape. Also during that time, Dodds gets crazier and crazier. Whenever he goes into the silo to visit or bring supplies, he rants about the apocalypse that has happened.
Eventually, Blythe and Adam escape the silo, and that’s where the second half of the book begins – Above.
The first half is great. Every time Blythe came close to escaping, I held my breath, and felt a wave of disappointment and frustration every time it didn’t happen. She’s a great character – her reactions and motivations are realistic and very little about the first half of the book feels contrived. Well, aside from that whole missile-silo-with-all-the-trimmings thing.
It’s also kind of wonderful seeing Adam’s reactions to the outside world for the first time, like the way he has to pick up a bit of everything he sees, and his fixation on keys and what they mean.
But once Blythe and Adam got out of the silo, the book tanked for me. As long as they are being held prisoner, there is hope and conflict and a very realistic struggle. When Blythe is trying to outmaneuver Dodds, there’s tension and excitement.
Once they go Above, however, the whole thing just takes a turn into the meandering and depressing and purposeless. I don’t want to give away the main reason it was so bad. It’s a pretty big spoiler. Let’s just say, there’s something major, but it isn’t enough. There’s no doubt that Ms. Morley is talented, but I think she might have bitten off more than she could chew. The main conflict is gone, and no matter how imaginative the set pieces are, there’s just not enough heart anymore. Blythe and Adam go from place to place, and situation to situation, and none of it really seems to matter very much.
There are some cool chase scenes and the like, and a few interesting characters, but overall… meh. There’s no really happy ending, no real resolution to the one final question, no real sense of having been through something along with the characters (really good books do that to me).
The second half also suffers from following the amazing first half. There’s a pretty good chance that most second halves would suffer by comparison.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS