This book won the Hugo in 2012, the Nebula in 2011, the Locus in 2012, and the World Fantasy Award in 2012. I've never read Jo Walton before, although she has been on my radar screen for years, mostly because of Tooth and Claw, a story in the tradition of Framley Parsonage, but with dragons instead of people. It looks so awesome I can hardly stand it, meshing two of my favorite things: doorstop Victorian family dramas and dragons. (As an aside, I just bought this book for my kindle. So, expect a review rather soon. But, I digress).
Back to Among Others.
Oh, how I loved this book. I actually listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Kathryn Kellgren. This was a perfect way to get Morwenna's story - the book itself is told in diary format, so having it read in the voice of the main character was delightfully immersive.
There is magic in this book, but it is so intertwined in the life of the main character that it is sometimes difficult to tell where the magic ends and non-magic begins. Even for Mori. There are fairies, and they interact with Mori, but because the story is told through Mori's eyes, what she doesn't know, we don't know, and what she doesn't understand (and there is a lot that she doesn't understand) we can't understand. Sometimes Mori attributes things to magic that may only be chance. Sometimes, maybe she attributes things to chance that may be magic.
Jo Walton has also written about speculative fiction for Tor.com for many years. This book is set in 1979 and 1980, and Mori was 15 during the events of the book. I am very close to her age, and was myself 13 years old during that time period. I was not a science fiction book geek, as she is, but I was a bookish child, as she is, every bit as obsessed with what I was reading as she is with what she is reading. She reads voraciously: Heinlein and Silverberg and Vonnegut and Tolkien and Lewis and, as well, Dickens and Trollope and Plato and Lucy Maud Montgomery (you can find a full bibliography here).
There is so much perceptiveness of what it feels like to be a weird, somewhat awkward bookish girl in a culture that doesn't particularly understand or encourage girls to be either weird or bookish that I felt, at times, like Jo Walton was speaking directly to me, and to all of the other young people in the world who were told, repeatedly, that we read too much.
I always know when I've really connected to a book - upon coming to the last sentence, my heart breaks just a little and I consider, for a moment, turning back to the beginning and starting it all over again. That's how I felt about this book. I loved it. Simple as that.