In Yates’ earnest debut novel, conflict between humans and the environment comes to a head.
Brilliant young dendrologist Emily Westwood and her boyfriend are expecting a pleasant outing in Central Park when the laws of physics abruptly shift: They and everyone else in the Park are levitated gently into the air, where they float briefly before being returned safely to the ground. In the ensuing chaos, news breaks that similar events occurred around the globe. As world leaders trade theories and accusations, Emily and her mentor set out to determine the meaning of the mysterious events. Despite that suspenseful setup, the body of the book contains very little action. Instead, it delves into its characters’ past, examining Emily’s childhood and the origins of her interest in trees. It’s not until the very end that readers return to the present-day excitement. That structure robs the novel of narrative momentum, but it also allows for a lovely, lyrical exploration of the natural world. Yates devotes long passages to describing things like “the countless blades of grass…patiently waiting for a maestro to lift breezes’ baton.” Though the writing is often grandiose, its overall effect is powerful, and readers are left awed by nature. Unfortunately, the book’s focus on conveying an environmental message largely overshadows its plot and characters. The narrative is full of jarring detours into didacticism; in a representative example, the narrator breaks into the story to say: “If the tyranny of the Greeds continues to steer the world…our Earth can be spoiled beyond salvation.” When the characters talk or think, they all parrot the same sentiments. Because the novel repeats the same rhetoric ad nauseam, it fails to develop individual characters and loses the story’s emotional pull. Subplots about Emily’s faltering health and her relationship with her boyfriend feel inconsequential when Emily herself lacks believability as a person. Still, the ideas presented here are timely and affecting, and a creative denouement offers a new spin on human beings’ relationship with the natural world.
A heavy-handed but sometimes moving plea for environmental awareness.