Monday, March 10, 2014

Above by Isla Morley

Above by Isla Morley was released this week by Gallery Books. I received this ARC from Netgalley in return for an honest review.


Blythe was sixteen when she was abducted from the town fair by a survivalist and locked away in an aban­doned missile silo. Her abductor, Dobbs, assures her over and over again that he is protecting her from impending world destruction. He has chosen her to save, and she'd better start acting appreciative.


For two years, Blythe uses every tactic imaginable to escape her captivity, but Dobbs is always one step ahead of her. While he takes trips Above, Blythe must always stay Below.

Defeated, madness sets in. When suicidal missions like starving herself to death and setting her prison on fire fail to work, she resigns herself to hoping for a day when Dobbs will realize Armageddon is a madman's myth, and set her free.


Blythe's priorities change when son Adam is born. She puts her feelings on hold, using every bit of her strength to raise him in total confinement. When Dobbs isn't around, stories of her childhood and life out in the real world keep life bearable for her and her son. She tells him who she's going to visit when they go Above and how freeing life will be. When Dobbs is present, she stays quiet as he fills Adam's head with tales of the apocalyptic life moving forward Above. Agreeing allows her to keep Adam safe from Dobbs and to help repress Adam's growing desire to see life on the other side. While Dobbs promises that they'll go Above "someday" when it's safe, Blythe knows from experience that this will never happen. In total, she's spent half of her own life waiting for it to be "safe."


17 years after her abduction, Blythe escapes her prison with Adam, leaving Dobbs behind to face his own fate. With glee, Blythe reports that everything Dobbs ever said about the world was a lie and that finally they are free. But with no one around for miles, abandoned cars and trees growing through the roads, things are not as she remembers them. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.

When I began this book, I expected it to be about a kidnapping, a confinement, then a rescue. I did not know that it was really a dystopian story, something I wouldn't normally read. The publisher likened it to The Lovely Bones, but I don't find any similarities other than both girls were kidnapped.

The author knew her characters intimately before she ever sat down to write a word, and that was apparent. They immediately leaped off the page and became very real for me. I felt what Blythe felt and wanted so badly for her to be rescued, to be reunited with her loved ones. Dobbs was rancid inside and out and I hated what he'd done to Blythe. He was a very real presence in every scene, even when he was not physically present. Both Blythe and Dobbs were able to carry out an entire 350-ish page novel without the aid of many sub characters. That is very hard to make happen, but the author certainly achieved it.

The first 3/4 of the book was expertly plotted and portrayed. The flow was natural and the scenes made sense. I stayed up late into the night a couple of times, eager to find out what happened next. That said, the plot became a bit more confusing in the final 1/4 and the end just kind of petered out. While the first 3/4 was national bestseller material, the final 1/4 was not.

The plot became confusing when before my eyes -- it literally seemed to be written in all the same breath -- when Adam went from age 2 to 15, seemingly overnight. While I understand that age progression needed to happen, it seemed instantaneous, almost like the author was done writing the captivity part of the novel and wanted to move on to something else, not bothering with a more seamless segue way.

The plot took a downturn for the worse as Blythe and Adam ventured out into the present day, above ground. The final plot twist, while interesting, was never fully realized. The reader only got to see bits and pieces of what happened to the present day society, how things became the way they were. I felt that the author probably had enough information that there could have been a sequel - the sequel detailing the world Blythe and Adam ventured out into and how they functioned in that new society. Instead, after a bit of confusing and conflicting information, we find Blythe at the end of the novel, having one of those "and everything was going to be okay" moments at the end of unrealized novels. I felt let down by that ending.

Despite the let down during the end of the book, I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys captivity stories and dystopian novels. It will be right up your alley.

TOTAL RATING: 50 pts for reading + 37 pts = 90% = 4 stars
Plot: 7/10
Characters: 9/10
Setting: 7/10
Pacing: 8/10
Writing Style: 8/10

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. During the country's State of Emergency, she graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth with a degree in English Literature. By 1994 she was one of the youngest magazine editors in South Africa, but left career, country and kin when she married an American and moved to California. For more than a decade she pursued a career in non-profit work, focusing on the needs of women and children. She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu. Now in the Los Angeles area, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, a cat, two dogs and four tortoises. "Come Sunday," her debut novel, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Prize for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. Her latest novel, "Above," will be published March 2014.

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