This debut YA novel stars a heroine who leaves home to answer the call of a distant mountain peak.
In the land of Mirth, in the town of Slatfoot, 17-year-old Topaz has “long, bone white hair…chalky skin, and the palest of features.” She lives in a tree and tends to her strog, a helplessly rotund creature that lives in her backyard and generates gravel. This is her Fate, as read on her fingernails by an ayp named Murx, an ancient, towering being. (Ayps “walked on their fore-knuckles in a lumbering manner, but could become agile and swift when they had to fight.”) The strog depresses Topaz, but she also notices a “haunting glumness” in the rest of Slatfoot’s people, despite their smiles. One morning, she spies a “claw of light” on the distant mountain peak. She then feels a sharp pain in her stomach. Her “umbi-pit” (or bellybutton) swallows her limb-by-limb. The dull, washed-out Mirth is replaced by a land of flowers and greenery. After waking up back in Mirth, she prepares to head east toward the mountain peak. On her journey, she meets Uniz, a boy with a horn on his head whom she comes to rely on. He possesses a powerful stone coin that once belonged to Murx. Eventually, Topaz learns that she’s been chosen to liberate those with Fates determined by Murx. Despite the cute wordplay (“Snazzlepops!”), Tremblay’s offbeat fantasy is aimed at older teens. “The Truth Portal,” part one, constitutes more than half of the narrative, and “The Color Mayhem,” part two, picks up about a year later. While both sections are reminiscent of a Roald Dahl classic—The BFG, for example—the second reads like a parable. In it, the Slatfooters battle Mirth’s drab surroundings by adopting colors, then joining “color coteries,” such as the Red Specks and the White Stars. They grow obsessed with “out-coloring” one another and sipping “buish,” which causes giggling and daydreaming. These elements speak to the millennial (and even younger) generations’ preoccupation with identity politics and marijuana, both of which can be ruinous in excess. Topaz’s connection to her “grandmamâ” Seraphine shows that individuals always have the potential to keep growing.
This playful fantasy deftly argues that teens can only benefit by widening their perspectives.