Review: “In Other Lands” by Sarah Rees Brennan

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Release Date: August 15, 2017
Publisher: Big Mouth House
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Description

“The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.” (via Goodreads)

 

My Thoughts

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Plot isn’t a major concern in In Other Lands, but that doesn’t mean nothing happens. The novel is broken up into volumes by age: thirteen through seventeen. Within each volume, a small, intimate story is told of Elliot Schafer’s life that year. Over the course of the book he transitions from being a bitter boy already fed up with the world and desperately lonely to an adolescent learning to open his mind and heart to a young man who appreciates the world for all it’s weirdness and wants to explore it and all its people.

Elliot grows up a lot in the story, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. Brennan allows him a happy ending of sorts, but there’s a lot of sadness that goes along with it. Elliot wants what most lonely children do: a fantasy life full of magic and adventure and parents who would do anything for them. He thinks he’s better than that, that because he’s survived his mother’s abandonment and his father’s isolation that he doesn’t need the things he secretly wants. And at first it hurts to see his friends have everything he’s been denied, but as he matures he learns how to make a family of his own.

We also get to watch Elliot go through a sexual awakening as his attraction expands to include boys as well as girls (in all the fantasyland permutations that includes). I always love a YA book where a queer protagonist discovers their queerness without having to undergo a tragedy or bigoted response to their Coming Out. Too often queer teen stories demand that the plot revolve around the characters sexual identity, whether the revelation of it or the prejudices surrounding it. I really appreciated Sarah Rees Brennan giving Elliot the opportunity to figure out who he is on his own terms.

In Other Lands is a heartfelt exploration of life and love and loss. It tackles sexuality, romance, family, grief, prejudice, colonialism and imperialism, and identity in a deeply honest yet genuinely funny book. Think of it as the next step after Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I love that I got the chance to read this book.

So far magic school was total rubbish.

Elliot sat on the fence bisecting two fields and brooded tragically over his wrongs.

He had been plucked from geography class, one of his most interesting classes, to take some kind of scholarship test out in the wild. Elliot and three other kids from his class had been packed into a van by their harassed-looking French teacher and driven outside the city. Elliot objected because after an hour in a moving vehicle he would be violently sick. The other kids objected because after an hour in a moving vehicle they would be violently sick of Elliot.

Elliot ignored the other kids and hung his head out of the window. In a disdainful way.

Then they arrived at their destination, which could only be described as a classic example of a “random field in Devon, England.” Much like any other random field in England.

“Why are we in a random field?” Elliot demanded.

“I will thump you,” promised Desmond Dobbs. “Zip it.”

“I will not be silenced,” said Elliot.

He would not be silenced, but he was feeling unwell and being thumped usually made him feel worse, so he stood a little way off from the others and observed their surroundings.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.

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