Mellon Collie and the Infinite Madness

Above - Isla Morley
When you’ve lived your life with elaborate fantasies, how can reality stand a chance?

Thanks book, I just realised there’s not much difference between a girl who got trapped in a missile silo for seventeen years and a serial reader with a 1-click button dependence. 

I haven’t read Room or The Lovely Bones so I can’t make any conclusions if it delivered on its promise of being in the same vein as both those books. What I can say is that I caught myself pausing and stepping away from the intensity and madness of the first 3/4 of this book. The kind that leaves you with residual palpitations where you have to take a deep breath, count to ten before plunging back again into all that impossible tension.

I’m having hard time drawing the lines between spoiler and not because the book is being marketed as a post-apocalyptic/dystopian book… which given the premise of the story gives away pretty much the entire plot, making spoiler-tagging anything moot. But okay, let’s play pretend you don’t know what will happen:

When she was fifteen, Blythe Halowell was abducted by a survivalist under the belief that he has chosen to save her from the world’s impending end. For seventeen years she stays locked away from the rest of the supposedly ending world. In that time, Blythe suffers through endless cycles of failures, haunting memories, melancholy and infinite madness. And as if holding on to hope and sanity under such conditions wasn’t impossible enough, she has to raise their son, Adam. Their subterranean fortress is an isolated world controlled by the rules and proclamations of a mad man who claims to be protecting them from the harsh world Above. 

So that’s the first half of the book. The second half deals with Blythe and Adam escaping into The Above where Blythe discovers a world entirely different from the one she left seventeen years ago, and not quite the Above she raised Adam to believe.

Above has 384-pages with seven long-ass chapters divided into two parts and told entirely from the perspective of Blythe Halowell, a sixteen year old girl who comes from an long line of old-school Protestants from Kansas. Oh and she loves poetry. Seeing as the first half of the book documents her days and her thought process while in the silo, I expected it to be a painful experience but it really wasn’t. Much of the life that was taken away from her slips in and out of her days as she lives out her isolation and it was done pretty well.

Instead of day and night, there is Lights On and Lights Out. Instead of Monday, instead of month, hour, and minute, there is only Sleep and Awake. Two seasons, I’ll say that much. Despair, a packed-down bitter cold, and Memory.

It does take a bit of a stretch in my imagination to accept these as the thoughts of a sixteen-year old girl living in a farm and I had some difficulty distinguishing the growth in her character as a thirty-four year old woman later on. That aside, I like the consistency in the little details in her character. That despite the fact that she has been described as someone who writes poetry as a hobby, it was reflected more on her thoughts with how she fits words together and makes sense of the things going on around her than the obvious. 

It’s in all of us to harm someone else, even those we love. We deceive them or betray them or we throw things at them. How else are we to know they bruise or bleed? How else are we to know the relief of being forgiven?

While the poetry bit was subtly hinted at, her old-school Protestant roots bleeds a bit more often in her thoughts and feelings. And it was okay though thematically it was a little too obvious as ‘communion-wafer sunlight’ (to name one) isn’t really something I come across often. It doesn’t bother me as a reader, it was noticeable but it didn’t make Blythe any less capable of holding my attention while I navigate the crazy twists this ride took.

The unique predicament they find themselves in may have helped but I liked the complexity and the unique perspectives offered by Adam and Dobbs’ characters. I wondered about a character like Dobbs when I was reading Gated and I’m quite happy how this explored that possibility I was playing with in my mind. Adam’s wide-eyed innocence was charming and heartbreaking at first but something I felt that figured too prominently too long in the story that eventual he started to remind me a bit of Ben Stiller’s character in Tropic Thunder.

Kirk Lazarus is not amused.

Much of Above was enjoyable and gripping. I found myself cursing the long chapters because this was particularly hard to set aside and accomplish things in real life. I liked the creativity in making the Above plausible and the smallest details in Adam and Blythe’s early explorations were simultaneously fascinating and eerie. 

And I feel a bit cheated out of a better ending because a lot of that momentum was lost right around the 75% mark. I found Marcus as a secondary character overstayed his welcome and the entire Lawrence side-trip sluggish and boring. The last section where Blythe finds her way back to Eudora finding her best friend and the boy waiting for her the day she was taken felt this side of contrived and convenient. Even the dialogue and scenes felt too Hallmarky for my taste towards the end.

Missing can make a day take forever to end; remembering, though, can make it fly.

I’m not sure how I was expecting this to end but I certainly didn’t expect to feel the emotional manipulation as late as the last 50 pages. 

For all my griping and whining, I cannot deny how much I enjoyed this book. And the very things that bothered me, I can imagine others would find as strengths. A YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian book that doesn’t involve a game to the death centred on a “kickass” heroine… isn’t that reason enough to pick this up?

ARC provided by Gallery Books thru Netgalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. Quotes may not appear in the final edition.