August 01, 2016

Monday Review: MIRROR IN THE SKY by Aditi Khorana

Synopsis: This surprisingly literary speculative fiction / friendship / family story is another welcome addition to the growing shelf of books about A) people of color, B) South Asians, and C) teens of mixed heritage. Tara Krishnan, the narrator, is about to start her junior year of high school in a small Connecticut town where she is essentially a lone person of color in a sea of white faces. Her father is Indian, a former physics grad student who is now running the town's Indian restaurant; her mother is white and a bit of a hippie lost soul. Things have been in a bit of a holding pattern for everyone—until everything changes.

First, Tara realizes she will be alone this year: her best friend Meg is going to Argentina on a student exchange program. And then there's the story plastered all over the news: a message from space, from one of the "Goldilocks" planets that might be deemed hospitable to human life. The peculiar thing about the message? It's just like one that Earth beamed out into space in the past, but with a few minor, critical differences. Could this planet somehow be a reflection, an alternate version of Earth? And what would that mean for everyone?

As the school year begins, Tara finds herself, somehow, embraced by the popular crowd, even as she is increasingly distant from her former best friend. The boy she's had a crush on for years seems like he might actually like her. And the rest of the world, too, seems to be turning upside down, as her mother becomes increasingly obsessed with the new planet and her father seems more and more lost. The earth spins, and meanwhile, there is another version of the earth, up there, spinning on its own axis…

Observations: Mirror in the Sky reminded me a bit of crossover YA titles that are written for an adult audience but with teen characters—like The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker—not only because of the very literary, even at times erudite writing (I can't tell you how infrequently I usually look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary—but I did with this one) but also because of the way the speculative fiction elements function in the story. Unlike books such as Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, the focus is not on the sci-fi premise, on action or even really on the actual alternate universe; instead, the alternate universe's existence serves as an echo of the real-life action, a source of additional depth and commentary on Tara's feelings about the way she navigates her school and her world. This is something to keep in mind if you set out to read this book hoping for a sci-fi adventure—it really is more of a story about friendship, family and identity.

Speaking of identity, I appreciate that this is a story where ethnicity has a role, but it isn't necessarily the main thrust of the book. It is visibly THERE, and it certainly affects the narrator's sense of herself, but it is interwoven with everything else: the story of how Tara changes as her friendships morph and her family's stability teeters, and the almost indefinable sense of confused yearning that is created in everyone, knowing that there is another version of the world way, way out there and that anything could change at any time in our lives.

Conclusion: This is a debut novel, and a very impressive one. There were a few minor questions here from my standpoint--mostly having to do with voice and register, as well as the character's identity vis-à-vis the town (if she is the only Asian student at her high school, how does the town support an Asian grocery store? are there black students? etc.). But I was extremely glad to see another book featuring a person of mixed race and a South Asian protagonist—especially a spec fic novel—and I enjoyed reading it.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find MIRROR IN THE SKY by Aditi Khorana an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!


Charlotte said...

This sounds like one I'd like! thanks for reviewing it.

Sarah Stevenson said...

If you read it, I'd be interested to know what you think! :)