Planetfall - Emma Newman

Planetfall

by Emma Newman

 

Planetfall is easily one of the most memorable books I've read this year. From the first page, it kept me captive until it wrenched my heart in two. The story is beautifully layered, with rich symbolism woven deeply into the plot. I found it incredibly difficult, yet utterly compelling. Planetfall raises intensely personal reactions, so I don't know what it will mean for you. Maybe it will provide a glimpse of the struggle of living with a disorder; maybe the agonies of being

"Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of guilt and reminiscence"

will just be incomprehensible or frustrating or alien. But for me, even though the story takes place on a gloriously alien world, it was simply, utterly, heartbreakingly real.

Ren's disorder is hinted at even in the moment where she is bewildered about what to pack:

"How could I choose which of these to take and which to leave behind? How could I know which of these threads, weaving me into my past and my family, could be cut without unraveling the deepest part of me?"

For her, the loss of identity becomes tied to the loss of things. She cannot bear to see broken things discarded and forgotten. If she can save these objects, then maybe she can save herself, despite her own brokenness. But when is it all simply "Too much to carry?"
Her hoarding is just so multilayered and complex. Even though she is compelled to save the reminder of her guilt, she also wants to insulate herself from the memory.

"I stuffed things between her and myself until there wasn't even room for myself anymore.
Perhaps I am broken."

She articulates so many meanings for the things that she keeps around her:

"They'll force me to live in an empty shell and I'll rattle around inside with nothing to hold me tight."

Oddly enough, I was incredibly relieved when it turned out that Sung-Soo had ulterior motives for his attempts to "help" Ren--they were just so wrong, from his initial disgust and his repeated use of the word "garbage" to his vicious betrayal that turns Ren into the town's spectacle. It was actually a relief to know that he was doing it to destroy them all.

(show spoiler)

The story starts when Ren, a visengineer colonist on an alien planet, is summoned to greet a stranger to the town. But this stranger isn't just an unforeseen survivor of one of the colony's fallen ships. He's also the grandson of the Pathfinder, the vanished visionary who led the colony. All too soon, the stranger's arrival disrupts the fragile peace of the colony and brings to light secrets that have been hidden for decades.

 

I can't really describe the things I loved about this book without spoilers, so forgive my vagaries. I loved Ren. She's insightful and blinded and jaw-clenchingly frustrating and achingly sympathetic. I adored her sharp little asides, such as:

"I think 'majority' is one of my least favorite words. It's so often used to justify bad decisions."

The language of the story is simply lyrical, and I found myself highlighting far more quotes than I could ever include in a review. I loved the exploration of self, of the multitude of facets that make up each personality. As one character puts it,

"Where am I among all these parts? Am I just a mosaic of myself, held in the shape of a whole person? Perhaps the cracks are too tiny for people to notice."

But what happens when the cracks begin to widen?

"That scared me more than anything, sometimes; the noise of my thoughts, the sense that even the space inside myself wasn't safe."

One of the primary themes, which manifests itself in a multitude of ways, is trying to save the broken from destruction. As Ren says,

"We were all just little broken things, trying so hard to protect ourselves when all we were doing was keeping ourselves blind and alone."

The book held me rapt from start to finish. Like the people of the colony, the story is intimately connected with its environment, yet it is also so much more. The book is so intensely personal that I don't know what it will mean for you, but I hope you find it as heartrending and achingly perfect as I did.

 

~~I received this book through Netgalley from the publisher, Penguin Group Berkeley, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final versions, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~