About a Girl by Sarah McCarry (#3 in the Metamorphoses series) (St Martin's Griffin, 14 July 2015)
About a Girl is phenomenal.
I haven't actually read the previous two books in the trilogy; this third book stands fantastically on its own. Well, I've read maybe a third or half of the first book, and while I was enjoying it and I certainly intend to go back and finish it at some point, I don't think it was as captivating as About a Girl was. I picked up About a Girl in the middle of a long plane flight, and four hours later I was coming to the end of the book and crying silently into a bunch of tissues.
About a Girl is... well, about a girl. A girl called Atalanta, or Tally for short. Her mother abandoned her when she was only a baby and she's grown up in the care of her mother's best friend. Tally's into science – astronomy, to be precise. She's a rational person who likes knowledge and order. But she doesn't know much about her mother – and nothing at all about her father. In the summer before she goes off to college, she travels from her home in Brooklyn to a sleepy island near Seattle on her own, on a quest to find out more about her mother and to discover who her father was. But the island is a strange place, and when Tally meets Maddy, a beautiful girl with lion-coloured eyes, she starts to discover knowledge like nothing she's ever known.
This is Tally's coming-of-age story, and it's a very moving one. McCarry's writing is just so profoundly lyrical. I was completely swept away by her use of language; it's just so incredibly evocative and involving. Tides of emotion drag you in and drown you. Tally and Maddy's love story was quite a unique one, a rarely found gem in YA. It's frantic, a little one-sided, more hazy lust than true love. No expectations of a happily-ever-after, just a fleeting yet searing thing. It's realistic in some ways and completely otherworldly too. It meshed perfectly with Tally's journey of discovery: self-discovery and discovery of the truth about her parents, building to a profound conclusion full of pain and yearning and the acceptance of loss. And hope, and possibility.
It's definitely a weird book, which looks like a realistic, contemporary novel to start with, but then it evolves into something else, a book where ancient mythology is brought to life and everything takes on such a trance-like quality as Tally loses herself on this island and finds things she didn't entirely expect; the island clouds her mind and makes her forget so much and messes with her sense of time. It's enthralling and it totally cast a spell on me, the reader, too. I loved trying to figure out how Maddy fits into McCarry's reinterpretation of Greek myth – it actually took me a while to realise who she really was against this mythical backdrop, but it was very fun and intriguing.
I have to say, though, that your enjoyment of this book will probably be much greater if you are the sort of person who once read Ovid's Metamorphoses three times in a row because you loved it so much. Er. Yes. I did that. I mean, it's there in the series title. If you haven't read Ovid's Metamorphoses, you might not find About a Girl as exciting as I did. But I think if you enjoy Greek myth at all, you'll find About a Girl fascinating (and you should definitely also read Ovid's Metamorphoses because it is EVERYTHING).
I do really love the diversity in McCarry's books – there are a number of non-white characters and queer characters in the other books too I believe. Tally isn't white, and I love that McCarry points out when characters are white, which most authors don't do, and I really appreciate her doing so because it shows you that white shouldn't be the default. However, what I found really jarring was the fact that one of the specifically white characters in this book wore dreadlocks, and Tally didn't react negatively against this, and nowhere in the book was it pointed out that white people wearing dreads isn't really an okay thing to do (if this idea is new to you, do read up on it, starting from the article I've just linked to). Still, I do think McCarry generally does well with the representation of minorities in her book. Tally's best friend, Shane, is trans, and I thought that was dealt with really well.
About a Girl is truly worth a read, whether or not you have read any of the previous books in the series. In Tally's story McCarry has woven together myth and science to create a complex portrait of life and family and love, and an immensely relatable story about a girl growing up and learning all the tragedy and beauty that life might hold.