Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

Glory

I told you I had a review in the works!  Here it is: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future.  I’ve not been shy in the past about proclaiming my love for A.S. King’s work and I’m not about to start now.  What I have come to find is that you are guaranteed a well-written and interesting read when you pick up one of King’s novels. She writes from unique perspectives, which serve as reminders that the world is a varied and complex place, as are the people who reside there.  Her new novel, Glory O’Brien, is no exception.

Days before her high school graduation, Glory O’Brien and her best–and only–friend Ellie mix a mind-altering cocktail of beer and powdered bat (yes, the animal) and are bestowed with the ability to see the past and future of living creatures, from birds to humans.  Sometimes these visions pertain directly to the person caught in their sights, but often it is their ancestor’s or progeny’s life that is revealed.  Interestingly, the girls never see the same things, and Glory consistently gets glimpses of a future war, which she begins writing down: her history of the future.

Couched within this wonderfully bizarre premise, are the inner struggles of Glory, herself.  Glory is an individual.  She doesn’t care what others think and generally steers clear of interacting with people.  As a photographer, she is an observer of the world, seeing things on a lighting scale of max white to max black and wondering what her place in it will be.  Early on we learn that her mother was a talented photographer who committed suicide when Glory was in preschool.  Her death haunts the O’Brien house in the photographs adorning its walls, in Glory’s father’s inability to move forward with his life, in never talking about what happened.  In her mother’s old dark room, Glory finds a book of her notes and pictures, which supplies as many questions about this woman as it does answers.  Glory’s head grows increasingly full as she fills in her personal history from her dark room discoveries and watches snippets of an as-yet undeclared war play out in the faces of those around her.

Garnering comparisons to The Handmaid’s TaleGlory O’Brien tackles women’s rights in Glory’s visions and the implications of what could happen if they are eradicated.  It is a sobering future.  King manages to raise readers’ consciousness to feminist issues without being preachy, and the subject couldn’t be more timely, considering today’s political climate.  However, unlike Handmaid’s Tale, this is not the dominant story of the book; it shadows a more intimate plot that is devoted to identity and a strained friendship.  I appreciate that King takes on politics and other important relationships in Glory’s life, rather than defaulting to teenage romance.  Sex, relationships, crabs–these all feature, but a romantic plot (or sub-plot) does not, making me a happy camper.  Another nice aspect to the novel is the way King’s own photography background is unitlized.  She studied photography as an undergrad, so the language she uses to capture Glory’s way of viewing the world as a photographer comes across as entirely authentic.

One of the most enjoyable parts of reading Glory O’Brien is that it offers so many insights from so many unexpected places.  It is thought provoking.  It is a book of surprises.  A.S. King has delivered once again, as she always does, and I am not the only person who thinks so.  I am happy to report that Glory O’Brien has made its way onto School Library Journal‘s and Publishers Weekly‘s, Best Young Adult Books of 2014 lists.  Kirkus will release its teen picks on December 1, so keep your fingers crossed that we see Glory there, as well!

 

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