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Three years ago, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith went public with a post about a post-apocalypic YA novel they had written together. During the submission process, they received a response from an agent who offered to represent the book, “on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.”

They refused.

Their post led to a great deal of discussion about the need for gay characters in YA literature. The agency in question also posted a rebuttal.

Stranger - CoverSo that’s the backstory. The book eventually sold to Viking Juvenile, with a publication date of November 2014. I’m happy to have gotten my hands on an advance copy :-)

Stranger [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] definitely has a western feel to it, as noted in the publisher’s summary:

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, “the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. “Las Anclas” now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

I liked this one. There’s a lot of imaginative worldbuilding going on, particularly around the different powers people develop and the new forms of wildlife. The crystalline trees are awesome and terrifying. Also: telekinetic squirrels. They don’t get a lot of page-time, but just the fact that there are telekinetic squirrels makes me happy.

Smith and Brown rotate chapters through five (I think) different PoV characters, which was a little tricky to keep track of in the beginning, but I think it worked well. I’m less thrilled about the different font used for each PoV, but since I was reading an ARC, I’m not sure the publisher will keep that quirk in the final version. It might not bother you, but it distracted me.

There’s a lot going on here. You’ve got the eponymous stranger Ross Juarez, a loner with a bit of PTSD who finds a sense of community for the first time in his life … but there are those who don’t want him around, and others who just want to use him. There’s the larger conflict with a power-hungry king who’s been conquering neighboring towns. There are multiple romances. There’s internal political struggles between a family trying to create their own dynasty as leaders of Las Anclas and the changed sheriff who messed up their plans.

There’s also an ongoing story about discrimination and prejudice. You have open hostility and fear, and some of that fear is almost understandable, given the damage changes can do when people can’t — or don’t — control them. Poor Ross gets fear and suspicion from both barrels, as a stranger and someone with a suspected change.

I’m impressed by how well the multiple relationships, stories, and characters all come together. It did feel like there were some loose ends when I finished, and I’m hopeful those will be addressed in future books. But Stranger provides enough closure that I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good ending, one that makes me want to pick up book two.

Oh, and yes, there are several non-straight couples in the book, and they’re treated with the same respect and variety as the straight couples. Surprisingly enough, I did not burst into flames, nor did my own heterosexual marriage immediately crash and burn. Go figure.

ETA: I’m told there will be a sequel, and it’s called Hostage, and it’s already written!

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 25th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
On the multiple-fonts issue, I'd have to see the book to make a final determination, but a similar technique is one of the things I liked about The Interior Life; there are two fonts, very slightly but visibly different, which represent the two viewpoints, and late in the story a third one comes in. (Oddly, the linked review says that there aren't two fonts in her copy; I wonder if that was a later printing?) That was an important clue about what was going on -- I was initially confused, but when I noticed the font change I went back and re-read the first chapter and suddenly everything made much more sense. But maybe that was just me. :-)
Aug. 25th, 2014 07:10 pm (UTC)
I think, had it been more subtle, I probably wouldn't have minded. But with the fonts they used in the ARCs, it was a bit jarring at times.
Aug. 25th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
So glad you liked this! I read a MS version and thought that it was really great. My then-twelve-year-old son also beta-ed it, and not only did he like it, he still remembers and speaks of the characters from time to time.
Aug. 25th, 2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
Are you _sure_ you did not burst into flames? Did you check?
Aug. 25th, 2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
Okay, technically, I probably should have said that I did not burst into flames yet.
Aug. 25th, 2014 09:22 pm (UTC)
What about now?
Aug. 26th, 2014 01:47 am (UTC)
I am so glad this story has got an author friendly resolution.

Maybe it'll become a megahit with a YA franchise which makes certain people look like idiots...

Dr. Phil
Aug. 27th, 2014 09:47 pm (UTC)
Great review, Jim! :) I've already preordered Stranger - it sounds intriguing!

Looking forward to reading Stranger when it comes out. :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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