Illuminae - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

Illuminae

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

 

This isn't just a mixed review; it's a mixture as unemulsifiable as oil and water.

There are some aspects of this book I really enjoyed; it's an extremely creative framework, a supposed collection of various primary sources from a multitude of voices that together tell the story. While I'm sure it's more effective in print form, that creativity was even echoed in the audiobook, which is how I encountered it. The authors create a set of strong and very unique voices, and the story involves, amongst other subplots, space battles, zombifying diseases, vengeful AIs, and shoutouts to everything from Firefly (lots of mentions of "[take me back] to the black" and "nothing in the 'verse") to TNG (there's a captain named Riker. 'Nuff said) to Star Wars ("I can't shake 'em! I can't shake 'em!" shows up in the dialogue.) Most of all, the authors have a true genius for suspense. This book is heading towards the "unputdownable" category.

But then there are the negatives. First of all, this is YA, so there's the obligatory teen romance. This is actually played reasonably well, with the authors repeatedly lampshading the absurdity of the teens squabbling over their passions during utter disaster. Second, there's a bit of a Mary Sue syndrome; essentially every self-describing male character in the book is in love with the heroine. But these things are just part of the genre; if you're going to read YA, you're going to have to deal with it. Constant profanity--only slightly beeped out-- is an ongoing joke throughout the novel, but while I found it surprising (for YA) and irritating, it didn't phase me.

My real problem is with the "jokes" and "humor" that the boys throw around. and Apparently this future century hasn't gotten past the homophobia and sexism that leads to macho men using "gay" and "feminine" as the worst possible insults. Apparently jokes about "hammering" each others' sisters as a joking comeback or having busy hands while staring at a photo of another boy's girlfriend are just all in good fun. Look, I'm not one for censorship, but this is a book I really wouldn't want any kids I know to read.

Honestly, I can't even really reconcile my feelings about the story and my feelings about the presentation. And that's what I mean about an unemulsifiably mixed opinion.