Happy Saturday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm reviewing In A World Just Right by the incredibly talented debut author, Jen Brooks.
I almost never cry when I read - the last time I DID cry, it was while I was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the night it was released- so, the fact that this book DID make me cry, shoud tell you something.
Hardcover, 432 pages
Expected publication: April 28th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format read: E-ARC via publisher
But I won't. Because as big and complicated as my feelings are for this remarkable book, I want all of you to read it. And I think the only way to truly do that, is to not just tell you that you should buy this book, but to give you compelling reasons to do so. So read on!
Things that worked:
From the very first page, it's pretty clear that Jonathan Aubrey isn't your normal protagonist. He has a tragic backstory - he survived a plane crash as a child - and he came out of the plane crash with the ability to create worlds suited to his own needs.
While Brooks clearly shows that Jonathan has a gift that many would love, this is also a young man who clearly feels directionless in his life. Even as he escapes to the idealized version of his world, where he is popular and has the girl he wants, there is some part of Jonathan that realizes that it's still not as emotionally satisfying as having the same in reality, and he yearns for that slight imperfection.
So when the two worlds begin colliding, Brooks sets Jonathan on a path to discover just what is truly meaningful to him. Is it a world that he can control and create? Where everything is just right? Or is it a world where things may not necessarily work out perfectly, but helps him grow and develop in the process? We see him struggle frantically, thoughtfully and emotionally with every step of this growth, and it's a journey that feels rich since we're on it too.
While this is very much Jonathan's story, the secondary characters are all memorable as well. Brooks is careful to build a world where every characters has a part and does add to the bigger picture of Jonathan figuring out who he is and what he does want, and I think readers will especially appreciate every appearance.
In a story like this, an author obviously needs to establish rules and structure very early on, or it's possible for the world(s) to become chaotic. From the first chapter Brooks does so effortlessly, keeping just the right amount of mystery and intrigue behind Jonathan's abilities, as she also shows that there's a certain logic, coherency and even hierarchy to Jonathan's ability to create worlds.
We learn that there are certain rules to what Jonathan can and cannot do, including the roles of the people who exist in the worlds that he's created. There are those who oversee the world creating to some extent, and can step in as needed. Though I was a little weirded out about the bonding that takes place as Jonathan learns more about his abilities - it seemed a little violent and intrusive in every instance it occurred - all of the details end up making complete and perfect sense in the end.
Also, Brooks may be a debut author, but she's clearly not a novice writer by any means. As another reviewer said, there's a certain elegance to her writing that draws a reader in, and fully immerses them in the story as the book progresses.
The family/friends relationship factor
If there's one thing that Brooks does especially well throughout the novel, it's her exploration of the relationships that make up Jonathan's life. While the Jonathan and Kylie relationship do make up a significant portion of the novel, it's also only a singular piece of the overall puzzle.
In many ways, the confluence of both Jonathan/Kylie relationships acts as a catalyst for Jonathan to realize that the status quo isn't something that he wants to maintain forever. There is more to his worlds, than spending time with a Kylie who adores him.
As the book progresses, Brooks shows Jonathan taking advantage of his gift to explore the possibilities of what could have been, and what might still be. Yes, Jonathan comes to terms and realizes that he could have had a great life with a family who loved and supported him, and he could have thrived as a result.
However, he also realizes that there are quite possibly, reasons for why things have turned out the way that they have, and there are value and worth to his relationships now. There's an astonishing, logical amount of pragmatism to Jonathan's eventual outlook, which I think is a worthy lesson for any reader of any age.
The science fiction factor
Like many other wonderful science fiction novels, Brooks uses Jonathan's world making abilities as a metaphor to explore the human psyche.
We see how world-making, as fun and limitless as it may feel, is also very much a tool for individuals to escape from the realities of their situation. Brooks has us question the pros and the cons of such escapism, and what kind of strength it does take, to put that world aside.
I think that both Brooks's acknowledgement of the value of having that avenue to escape, and the strength it takes to come back and face reality, is an important lesson of growth.
While the last twenty-five percent of the book was definitely unexpected - more on this later - I also think that that it set up an ending that was beautiful, stunning and ultimately very, very hopeful.
Without giving spoilers away, Jen really emphasizes the idea that it's the decision to face reality which can be the scariest, but most rewarding leap of all. I finished the book feeling optimistic and light-hearted, and I'm confident that other readers will too.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
The book ultimately is so much more than just the Jonathan/Kylie/world-building aspects, especially around the latter half of the book. Although I can understand why the editorial decision was made to not get in-depth with the synopsis, I also think that it might give the wrong impression to some prospective readers. I've seen reviews complaining that the book wasn't what the synopsis presented it to be, and that's why the reader ended up disliking it in the end.
I don't have a answer or solution for this; I think that many other readers like myself, enjoy being surprised by the depth of the book, and the eventual twist, but I also think that it's important for other readers to keep this in mind. So I guess my bottom line would be: keep an open mind while reading, and you should be fine.
Jonathan Aubrey may have the power to create worlds to suit his needs, but Jen Brooks challenges Aubrey and the reader to recognize and understand, that sometimes, it's the decision to face reality which may be the biggest challenge in any life. Aubrey's struggles and growth as he comes to recognize this fact, is what makes this a powerful, heartbreaking tale for readers of any age.
I highly recommend this book for fans of science fiction, and for readers who enjoy urban fantasy. I also enjoy this for anyone searching for a good bildingsroman. This is the ultimatel story about growth and learning, and Jonathan's struggles and triumphs, will seem relatable and undestandable to readers of any age.
About the author:
Shortly after graduating from Dartmouth College, Jen Brooks started teaching English to high school students. She did so for fourteen years and then received an MA and MFA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. A competitive hurdler and jumper in high school and college, Jen now enjoys running, hiking and gardening. In a World Just Right is her first novel. She lives with her husband and son in Massachusetts.