All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

Science fiction and fantasy, though often shelved together in bookstores and libraries, are actually quite difficult to combine into a single narrative. Aliens and magic don't mix; they tend to negate each other. And yet Anders has spun an incredible sci fi fantasy story, a fairy tale about the apocalypse, a morality play without god.

Patricia and Laurence find each other as miserable middle schoolers, both with parents who do not understand them and try to force the square pegs of their souls into the round hole of society. Patricia once spoke with birds and an ancient, wise Tree; Laurence made himself a two-second time machine and is working on a sentient supercomputer in his closet. They are outcasts, pariahs, bullied to within an inch of their sanity and sometimes their lives, and though they find comfort and friendship with each other, their desire to be left alone by their peers sometimes overwhelms their bond. Not to mention the assassin who pretends to be a school counselor and tells Patrica that she must kill Laurence because magic and science are diametrically opposed, or risk "the Unraveling". It's a lot of pressure for a kid...

This book is funny, charming, moving, and inventive in the very best way. The tropes are common enough - friendship, loyalty, destiny, the whole star-crossed lovers thing - but the packaging is the kind of wonderfully original writing that doesn't come around very often. Anders is a masterful writer who isn't afraid to use unconventional techniques, and the characters are fully fleshed out human beings (and some animals). My one complaint: San Francisco nights are described as "hot and itchy." Now, I don't know how many nights Anders has spent in San Francisco, but even if it's 90 degrees during the day (which is rare), it will still drop to 55 once the sun goes down. Always. Aside from that, this is one of my favorite books this year and a must-read for any lover of fiction.


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