"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 22, 2013
Under the Never Sky: Beauty in the Real World
by Erin Cowles

Last October, I decided to get in the Halloween spirit and review YA books with a spooky side. This year, I decided to embrace the fact I am an epic wimp and review Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky instead. Here's hoping the fact it has cannibals will make me sound like less of a coward.

The narration in this story switches between two characters living in a world ravaged by mysterious and destructive “Aether” firestorms. Aria was raised in a “Pod,” a self-contained, domed city where life is safe from the Aether, but largely lived through escaping into virtual worlds.

Perry grew up on the outside, the brother of one of the many tribal leaders struggling to survive against the harsh terrain and dangerous Aether.

When their worlds reject them in different ways, Aria and Perry find themselves unlikely allies on their quests for answers and redemption. As their adventures force them to stretch and grow, the pair find themselves growing together and forming a deep and meaningful bond.

My favorite part of this book is the way Rossi successfully uses the science fiction and post-apocalyptic elements to further her character development. Her world building is interesting, as are the different powers the outsiders possess, but these elements are always put in context of how they affect the characters' identity and their relationships with others.

Some authors get caught up in the concept behind the book and consequently lose track of the characters and plot, but Rossi does not do this.

I also love the case Rossi makes for living in the authentic world, even if it is messier and more dangerous. Aria grows up in a largely digital world where everything is possible, but nothing is dangerous. Through her quest, she learns that although the real world involves pain and loss, its beauties and joys are far superior and worth the price.

My biggest complaint about this book is its attitude towards sexuality. I'm certainly not naive enough to claim this is the first YA book where people have sex. That said, the attitude of this book seems to be “of course you'd have sex with someone you've known for two weeks, even if you think you'll never see each other again in a few days. You love each other.”

I strongly disagree with this mindset, and it fights against her argument about the importance of living life solidly in reality. However, there is nothing graphic about what is included.

There are also some violent elements to this story. They are treated seriously and the costs of such violence are considered, but they are present.

Through the Ever Night, the sequel to this book (which I have yet to read), came out earlier this year. The final installment of the trilogy, Into the Still Blue, will be released in January 2014.

Read this book if:

  • You want to dip your toes into science fiction without the book laying it on too thick. There are some solidly science fiction themes and elements in this book, but it is always kept in the context of how they affect the characters.

  • You wonder about the consequences of moving so much of your social life into digital media — Rossi will give you some interesting food for thought.

  • You've embraced the current trend towards alternating narration in YA books. The voices are unique and satisfying.

Target audience: Girls, ages 14+.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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