Book Reviews: Among Others, You

It’s coincidence that I read these two books within a couple weeks of each other, but they are in many ways mirror images of each other. Both are stories about stories, and about growing up as the kind of person who is drawn to certain kinds of stories. Among Others is about a geek girl shaped by the science fiction and the fantasy books she reads. She also talks to fairies, struggles against her evil witch (literally) of a mother, and searches to find her a place in a world that’s not really set up for people like her. She’s different—Othered—along a number of separate axes: disabled, geeky, a survivor of abuse, and that’s not even getting started with the witch thing. Yet her inner voice is intensely relatable. It’s funny how she’s given a number of different quests (survive boarding school, save the world, yadda yadda) but the one that feels most pressing is her need to stop being alone. The books she reads give her mind the companionship it needs until she’s able to find like-minded friends. I think for a lot of nerds her inner journey will be very, very familiar.

And You is the mirror image, except instead of being about a girl and books, it’s about a boy and video games. But both books center on the experience of growing up nerdy and finding solace or salvation in a certain kind of story. Among Others touches on a whole library shelf worth of classic texts, and You does the same for classic video games. I was so struck by the experience of recognition, again and again—hey! I played that game!—that I had to look up the author’s biography, where I discovered that he’s worked as a game designer. This probably explains the central plausibility of the genre plot. I mean, it’s not really plausible, but of all the books or movies that offer plots wherein the hero must save the world by playing video games, this one is far and away the least stupid. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but actually I enjoyed this book from start to finish. Not quite as much as Grossman’s first novel, the utterly marvelous Soon I Will Be Invincible, but enough that I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he does next.

(Grossman also has a free short story up at, “Professor Incognito Apologizes,” which is in the style of Soon I Will Be Invincible. If you like one you’ll probably like the other!)

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