Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Published April 8th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Plus One is the story of Sol, a Smudge, and D’Arcy, a Ray. This means that they technically should never have met, since Sol is only allowed to go out during the night, and D’Arcy only during the day. Sol gets caught up in a conspiracy when she by accident steals the wrong baby from the hospital.
Let’s start with the good. Sol as a character, is quite nice. She is extremely impulsive, which isn’t something I can identify with, but at least her behaviour is consistent throughout the story. She constantly gets into trouble because of it. D’Arcy was also quite refreshing – a YA love interest that is analytical and not creepy or controlling. I really like the scientific side of him. Finally, Ms Fama deserves huge props on the way she handles sex in a YA novel. It’s not sensationalised but realistic, and even manages to produce a condom in the middle of it. Honestly, almost every aspect of the romance was done well.
Romance is just one aspect of Plus One though. On the other hand we also have the plot, and the world-building.
The plot was too slow. Plus One counts almost four-hundred pages, but only has enough plot to fill about three-hundred. What does she fill the left over quarter with, you might wonder? Well, the most horrible and boring intermezzo I have ever seen. Don’t you just hate it when the hero and heroine stop to have sexy times in between shootings, death-threats and saving the world? Well, in Plus One, our wonderful couple just take a few days off to go camping.
I’m not kidding. They go camping and stargazing when they’re both wanted for five offences.
I must have put down this book three times during this intermezzo because it completely sapped any speed the plot might have had right out of it. Even when the plot was in “full swing”, I felt like there was barely anything happening. The moment things become interesting, they’re over. From the blurb I was expecting a lighter version of Feed or Parasite – massive plot twists and deep conspiracies, but then with a healthy dose of romance. Don’t get your hopes up. There is no conspiracy. Just three factions bickering and wanting things to go their petty way.
I could have dealt with the slow-moving plot if the world-building had been on par. There is such a thing as the willing suspension of disbelief, and as an avid reader of fantasy I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief, on two conditions. One, the world has to be plausible. Not possible, just plausible in some weird alternate-universe kind of way. Second, it has to have an inner consistency. If the world has rules, they have to apply always. Plus One has neither.
The world of Plus One is an alternate universe kind of story, describing how during the Influenza during the First World War scientists found out a way to stop it by hacking days into two parts – sunlight hours and night hours. They “share time”, by splitting the population in two groups, Smudges (night) and Rays (day), who aren’t allowed to go outside outside of their allotted time slot. This increased production in factories, and stopped the Influenza.
Apart from the slightly ridiculous assumption that you can somehow stop an infectious disease by having half your population stay inside for a few hours, the system just doesn’t make any fucking sense. Why the hell would you bind people to day and night? During season switches, day and night become shorter and longer, and all those changing hours just cannot be good for production in any way. During summer, depending on where you live, summer days might be up to sixteen hours long, while nights only last eight hours. I’m seeing a discrepancy between working hours there. The curfews are applied heavily in a dystopian kind of way. Why enforce curfews at all? When your job is in the middle of the night, you won’t stay up the entire day anyway. It seems such a waste of resources to have an entire army to check if your Rays are safely tucked in once night falls.
Smudges are repressed in a way, because they only have the night. Suppression of minorities is a thing in real life – those in power can decide whatever they want to concerning minorities. Even majorities can be oppressed, under certain circumstances. Females have been pushed down for centuries; however, one of the conditions of this is that you can immediately tell whether someone is female or not. Hiding your femininity is incredibly hard, and for some impossible without surgery. Because females can easily be distinguished from men, and because for a long time everything in society favoured men (for example, females couldn’t hold property or jobs or go to school), females were stuck. Smudges, however, aren’t stuck. They’re half of society, and aren’t recognisable in any way, except maybe from a lack of tan, but that’s easily fixable with make up. They’re not fundamentally different, and the divide is completely arbitrary. I just can’t accept that people would accept such an arbitrary and invisible division, without historical precedent. “Who controls the present, controls the past” is an idea that is used in many dystopians – if the populace can’t remember a different time, they are more accepting of there fate. There is no control on history in Plus One though, and people know there weren’t any Smudges or Rays a hundred years ago. Why the fuck would they go along with it? There is no single demarcation that shows you’re a Smudge versus a Ray, and throughout the story many cases are named where people change sides.
At one point, Sol even points out that she doesn’t know what she looks like in the sunshine. Her apartment has windows. She has a mirror. There is no Big Brother watching. How fucking hard can it be? At one point she says:
I had never seen the sun rise over the lake, but neither had he: the precise moment of legal curfew happened when the upper edge of the disk of the sun broke the horizon and unless you lived in an apartment near the lake there wasn’t enough transit time for most people to witness it. Ditto sunset.
So clearly people have windows. That look outside. But for some reason they have to be inside at the exact moment the sun rises. Because reasons.
One last thing, before I end this crazy long review: at one point it’s mentioned how countries all over the world have adapted the Ray/Smudge division. Um, yeah. Keep thinking that the world follows the States in every idiotic political fad. I hate these kind of USA-centric mentions. The rest of the world thinks your political climate is rather stupid, sorry. Guns, anyone?
I’ll leave this beautiful quote with you.
His lips parted, as if he had only been waiting for me, and my body was taken aback by the welcome. It felt like someone had scooped out my insides and dumped them on the ground
Nothing says romance like steaming entrails on the floor.
Sol Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller in an America rigidly divided between people who wake, live, and work during the hours of darkness and those known as Rays who live and work during daylight. Impulsive, passionate, and brave, Sol deliberately injures herself in order to gain admission to a hospital, where she plans to kidnap her newborn niece—a Ray—in order to bring the baby to visit her dying grandfather. By violating the day-night curfew, Sol is committing a serious crime, and when the kidnap attempt goes awry it starts a chain of events that will put Sol in mortal danger, uncover a government conspiracy to manipulate the Smudge population, and throw her together with D’Arcy Benoît, the Ray medical apprentice who first treats her, then helps her outrun the authorities—and with whom she is fated to fall impossibly and irrevocably in love.
Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights—and a compelling, rapid-fire romantic adventure story.
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