All the Birds in the Sky; The Clasp

All the Birds in the Sky was published by Tor Books in January 2016 (left). The Clasp was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in October 2015

A junior high outcast asks her only friend Laurence, a science geek used to bullies giving him toilet bowl swirlies, a hypothetical question: what if you could change how other people saw you?

Laurence agrees that would be pretty cool.

"Who cares what your physical form looks like, as long as you can control how everybody perceives you?" he says. "You could be all deformed and messed up, and it wouldn't matter."

And as usual, the perceptive Patricia nails the heart of the matter.

"Yeah. But you'd know what you really were. And that's all that matters," she responds.

The genre-defying novel All The Birds in The Sky is ostensibly about witchcraft versus science in a battle to save the world. But Charlie Jane Anders's debut is at its heart a romantic and often funny look at growing up, discovering who you are and taking responsibility for what you believe in.

Talking with the birds

Patricia realizes she can talk to birds when she's six. Laurence builds a time machine that jumps two seconds into the future, and a computer that gradually gains sentience.

There's no place in the school hierarchy for a witch and genius, so the two form a shaky alliance long enough to get them out of the hell that is middle school into places they can flourish.

For Laurence, that means being the youngest person working on a secret anti-gravity machine to send humans to other planets when the world invariably self-destructs, at the expense of the rest of nature.

For Patricia, that means an invitation to the secret world of witches who work with nature to save the world, even at the expense of humans. 

Anders has a lot of fun with the fantasy, science fiction, romance and coming-of-age genres. The book riffs on the tropes of all the genres, while exploring some serious ethical questions.

The Clasp

In her funny and sharp debut novel The Clasp, Sloane Crosley explores the identity crisis of a group of college friends reconciling the personas they've crafted and projected with the reality of who they really are.

Victor, the perpetual underdog, comes to believe the necklace from Guy de Maupassant's famous short story is real and hidden in a chalet in France.  After losing his job at the internet's "seventh-largest" search engine, it becomes his mission to find it.

In the original story, written in 1884, a woman consumed with how she is perceived borrows what she believes to be a very expensive necklace to make the right impression at a party. The clasp breaks and she loses the necklace. She ruins her life paying for a replacement, only to find out when she is old and broken the necklace was a fake. She wasted her life for nothing.

The search to find the necklace takes Victor and two of his college friends on a rather madcap journey through rural France. And it is the perfect metaphor for the big step into adulthood, where the trio is forced to sort what is valuable from what is worthless.

LOL observations

Crosley plays with the traditional comedy of manners, with some genuinely laugh-out-loud observations on the modern millennial world, including a dog that drinks only filtered water, an actress with a tattoo of a quote from D.H. Lawrence that she "read on a restaurant menu," and the envious tour of a more successful, married friend's apartment:

"In the living room there were framed LPs and art — a canvas with tiny naked people needle pointed into it. There was a closet just for coats. Kezia's apartment had no subversive knitting and no closets. Only a corkboard monstrosity from IKEA. Oh to have two incomes in one home.  Like having two hairs coming out of one pore, but pleasant."

The Clasp may not have the depth and strong story of All The Birds in the Sky, but the humour makes it worth the read.