Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.
Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.
My Writing Heroes
My writing heroes are smart writers everywhere, in every time period (from Homer to Megan Whalen Turner). That is, my heroes are all the authors who have thought not just “Is this a great adventure?” but “Is this story meaningful? Does it change how readers think?”
Here are three more hallmarks of smart writing:
1. Every word counts. Beautiful writing is like poetry: the author has considered every single word before putting it down, and then pared out the unnecessary. Franny Billingsley once gifted me with a comment that her late editor, Jean Karl of Atheneum, had tossed out while Franny was revising The Folk Keeper Jean told her that each word had to exist in service of the plot. She told her to remove any passage or word that was not “wholly necessary.” That phrase has stuck with me for fifteen years as a litmus test: “wholly necessary.” As when you sculpt marble, you can’t crank out beautiful writing at 2,000 words a day. You can certainly carve the crude form quickly that way, but you have to go back to chisel and polish it meticulously to make it come alive. That means revisions…lots of them. Here’s a passage from Norman Maclean’s short story “A River Runs Through It” that shows the sort of artful prose I aspire to: simple and beautiful.
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand in my youth are dead. But I still reach out to them. Of course, now I’m too old to be much of a fisherman. And now I usually fish the big waters alone, even though some friends think I shouldn’t. But when I am alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being of my soul and memories, and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.
2. Characterization. Each character should not only be fully fleshed out, but also beautifully, believably flawed. For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet has a mischievous sense of humor, and she delights in the ridiculous, but it gets her into trouble and it brings up that very contemporary (and I think mistaken) literary criticism, “Is she likable?” Lizzy’s wit is sometimes caustic, and even the people who love her misunderstand her humor. How many times have you argued with your friends over this passage?
“Oh, Lizzy! do any thing rather than marry without affection. Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?”
“Oh, yes! You will only think I feel more than I ought to do, when I tell you all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, I must confess that I love him better than I do Bingley. I am afraid you will be angry.”
“My dearest sister, now be serious. I want to talk very seriously. Let me know every thing that I am to know, without delay. Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”
“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”
My son is convinced that Lizzy is actually mercenary, and she genuinely only falls in love with Darcy because of his estate. But Austen is careful to show two things: 1. a gradual change in Lizzy beginning with the explanatory letter from Darcy (after his failed proposal), which makes Lizzy see how wrong she was about Wickam and about Darcy’s judgment of her family (all of which happens before she sees Pemberley); and 2. Lizzy’s deep understanding that marriage is a partnership:
She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.
This is level-headedness at its best. Lizzy is verbally playful, and she simultaneously loves Darcy, but she recognizes that love is also not as necessary as respect, personalities that complement each other, and, yes, lack of financial hardship between a couple, which will all ultimately provide a happier marriage and longer love than what Lizzy’s parents had (and what her sister Lydia will have). Pride and Prejudice is not a romance novel; it’s a commentary by Austen on her time, and on the social structure she lived in. Marriage with affection was becoming increasingly common, but still subject to the estate laws and the practicality of financial survival. Lizzy is shrewd enough to understand it all.
3. Nuance without heavy-handed explanation. This happens when the author trusts the reader to understand a character’s actions without letting him- or herself intrude to explain it. Take for instance Eugenides’s self-pity in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia that he can no longer be a thief with his traumatic injury, and Eddis’s awareness of his feelings (and peculiar mix of empathy and intolerance), conveyed in five brief lines:
[Eddis] held out a hand, and he stepped down the stairs and across the throne room to take it and bow over it.
“My Queen,” he said.
“My Thief,” she answered.
He lifted his head. She squeezed his hand, and he forbore to argue with her.
“Dinner, I think,” said the queen….
That one small gesture of “lifting his head” shows that Gen was prepared to argue with her: He is no longer her thief. He can’t be. That ability has been taken away from him. He has been emasculated. Without “explicating” a thing (as my editor likes to say), and in five short lines, Megan Whalen Turner has shown 1. the deep understanding that Eddis has of her dear friend and thief (whom she grew up with); 2. Gen’s despondence over his injury, which fills his waking thoughts and affects his self-esteem, 3. Eddis’s decision to use her authority to try to shake him out of his self-pity, 4. Gen’s respect of that authority.
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I feel stupid for sitting on this book for as long as I did. Every once in a while I read a book and when I finish I think ‘I wish I would have read that earlier’ and this is one of those books.
The flu pandemic of 1918 has split society into two – day and night – Smudges and Rays… as you can maybe guess, those known as Smudges aren’t quite as privileged as the Rays and there are strict rules that keep the two separated. Sol, our protagonist is a Smudge. She loves her family dearly, especially her grandfather who is dying. Having lost her parents when she was very young, she grew up with her grandfather and brother, a notorious hacker who is also a Smudge… until one day he is taken by the government and offered the option to become a Ray. He grabs it and basically forgets about Sol and her grandfather, starting a family of his own, leaving her to care for him alone. Her grandfather’s one wish is to have the chance to meet his granddaughter, a Ray, and Sol is determined to make it happen, even if it means breaking laws and deliberately injuring herself.
This one act introduces her to D’arcy Benoit and from there her life will never be the same.
This book is set in an alternate future that I found incredibly interesting, and as always, the characters are what had me hooked. Sol, our MC, was exactly everything I look for in a leading lady… she’s totally badass, but she also has that layer of vulnerability that I love to see, especially in a younger girl.
D’arcy Benoit … while I felt very questionable about him in the beginning because of things, I found myself swooning for him a bit later on. His life isn’t exactly as it seems and once you learn more about him, I’m positive you’ll be swooning too.
I knew you were the most remarkable person I’d ever met.
”You admitted you were throwing your life away so that Poppu could hold Fleur just once, and it was like the floor of your apartment opened under me. You had the balls to condense the whole screwed-up world into this one pure thing, this crazy act of love. Everything I was working for collapsed through that hole with me, and I went into a free fall. And then you kissed me on the prairie and I wanted it all – I selfishly wanted what Poppu had.”
Though I felt that their relationship escalates pretty quickly, it makes sense based on what is going on… and there is a bit of a history that connects them so ultimately I didn’t think their feelings for each other were instant and I definitely found it all making sense.
Fama does an amazing job with the world building here too. The way she cleverly introduces the alternate history to readers was done at a wonderful pace and I was really able to get into this world divided simply by the sun and moon. I also really enjoyed the way Fama introduced the idea of inequality in this story and how it affected society and even families when all was said and done.
Let’s talk about this cover because it wasn’t even out when I started reading… I’m in love with it, and I fell like it perfectly captures this story… The dark and light… the romantic feel of it, all totally work for this story, and I can’t wait to own this book.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced story, unique plot and amazing characters this is the book you want to put at the top of your must have and must read list. Though this is a standalone book, I could see where this story could be expanded and I for one would love to see it. *cough cough hint hint*
Thank you to Macmillan for the advance copy in exchange for my honest thoughts.