This week I’m going in a different direction with a quick read called Afar from Image Comics.
Boetema and her younger brother Inotu live in a desert wasteland with their parents. Their father is a struggling engineer, their mother an artist. When the water plant fails, and only produces salt water straight from the sea, they are forced to leave their home and cross the desert in search of a better place where there are plenty of jobs for those who are willing to work. The move turns out not to be any better for the family, and their parents head out alone to find work and send it back, leaving fifteen-year-old Boetema in charge.
But Boetema has become plagued by sleepless nights where her consciousness travels to other worlds inhabiting other bodies, having adventures and experiences she can’t explain, and isn’t sure are real. Her brother, Inotu, in saving a monkey from some bullies, came to the attention of the people in charge and was thrown in jail only to escape. Now Boetema must decide the right path for the both of them, while protecting her brother from those who want to hurt him, and figure out if the dreams are real or not – because if they’re real, she may have gotten someone on another world killed.
Afar is written by Leila del Duca and illustrated by Kit Seaton. It blends a post-apocalyptic dystopia with a sort of fairy-tale reminiscent of eastern fables. There’s even a dog lizard named Agama Wanwitu who has a fable inside the story, as well as being a real being who interacts with Boetema and her brother.
For the dystopia, you have a desert wasteland dotted with failing bits of recognizable technology, including a cyborg—plus various mentions of a storm you infer must’ve knocked civilization on its butt—the loss of written language for some, and so on. Beyond that, we see tons of different worlds through Boetema’s dreams, each world filled with diverse alien life that sometimes really freaks her out because they’re so strange. This is accidental at first, and then she learns to both make the dreams happen, and wake up from them on command. Is it magic? Is it something else?
I like this book. The art is very well done and reminds me, along with the character designs, of both of the Avatar series from Nickelodeon. At the heart of the story are the two siblings and their struggle to survive without their parents, even when they’re still with them everyday. It’s poignant, and something I think any reader will empathize with. Having said that, there isn’t a lot here. Billed as a young adult novel, I think it skews even younger than that, and some teenagers might get bored with the book. Everything is pretty straightforward. A few hooks are placed for ongoing elements and stories, but the main thrust of the book is about Boetema’s dreams and Inotu’s troubles with the authorities.
Your younger readers will eat it up, which makes it something I think is perfect for families to read together.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and two-time Hugo Award Winner. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed - @atfmb. His novel, SAMANTHA KANE: INTO THE FIRE is available at all major retailers. His short fiction can be found in the anthologies Space Battles: Full-Throttle Space Tales #6 and An Uncommon Collection, as well as the eBooks Conversations with my Cat, Witchcraft & Satyrs, Consumption, Cahill's Homecoming and Cahill's Unfinished Business. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for multiple Parsec and Hugo Awards.