Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Come for the apocalypse. Stay for cupcakes. Die for love. Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings. None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind. Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.
Thoughts: Andrea Höst’s YA tale of alien takeover and human resistance seems to be one of those little-known and underappreciated novels, which is a real shame considering it has so much of what I hear many people are looking for when it comes to characters and diversity. The book takes place in Australia, unlike most books of this genre which take place in America. The cast is a rough balance of males and females, of varying ethnicities and backgrounds. Not everyone is straight. Not everyone is cisgendered. This is quite possibly the most diverse cast of characters I’ve ever seen in a YA novel, one delightfully free of stereotypes and negative portrayals.
The story is good, too. The premise is that multiple groups of extraterrestrials have decided to use Earth as a proving ground to settle their own political disputes and hierarchy, and are possessing humans and giving them additional powers in order to do so. Following Madeline, the main character and one who has found herself touched with these new powers, we get sucked into a plot of defiance, betrayal, discovery, and hope that still manages to not actually be as cheesy as I’m making it sound.
What I found particularly interesting was the way that Madeline and her friends play a central role in resisting the aliens, but not in a way I expected. I was expecting the group to end up picked to be in the thick of the extra-terrestrial power-struggle and bring everything down from the inside, or else defeating some of the aliens who decide Earth’s just not worth the trouble and go elsewhere, thereby saving the human race in one grand gesture. But no, nothing like that happened. Madeline and her newfound allies do resist the plans the aliens have for them, but they spend more time fleeing and hiding than fighting for their lives. It felt a lot as though the book was more of a coming-of-age story, a tale of self-discovery, that just happened to be set during an alien invasion. It was an interesting take on a much-used idea, and for the most part, it worked.
I’m of two minds about the book’s ending, however. It was interesting to see an attempted coexistence between two vastly different people, and whether it works long-term remains to be seen. That part I have no problem with. The part that I have trouble with was the way that Madeline got knocked out before the big push, and woke up after it was all over. So we don’t get to see what could have been a spectacular series of scenes, and all we’re left with is second-hand info and hearsay, which was more than a little disappointing, and I felt let down by what seemed a bit like a cop-out. On the other hand, it did seem to fit in with the overall feel of the novel, that the story was about Madeline but that Madeline wasn’t a key figure or lynchpin of a plan. It was also an interesting inversion of the most common way of doing a story like this. 99 times out of 100, the main character escapes death and danger, sometimes narrowly, but always ends up there in the end to save the day. But here, whoops, Madeline’s as human and frail as anyone else, and just because the story was about her doesn’t mean she automatically gets front-row seats to the final confrontation. So stylistically, it was interesting and uncommon. But it was still a bit of a let-down.
Ultimately, though, I’m convinced that this is a YA novel that more people should be paying attention to. The writing is good, smooth and observant and with clear descriptions without going over the top. The diversity of the cast alone should have gotten this book more hype, and the dialogue is quite realistic for a group of teenagers in such a strange situation. Höst has demonstrated that she can take a concept that’s practically been done to death, and still do something new and interesting with it.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)