Viola was born with a genetic condition that makes sunlight deadly.
In the dark of night, when most teenagers are tucked up in bed, Viola has the run of her parent’s farm and the surrounding forest. She is used to seeing hidden things through her night-vision goggles, but one night she sees something that could get her into a whole lot of trouble…
This is an odd little book. When I say odd I mean this earnestly and in a good way. From the outset we have a straightforward YA Contemporary with some strong mystery elements, yet somewhat ironically, the whole book feels a little “out there”. The story revolves around Viola, a teenage girl stricken with XP, a rare genetic condition that confines her inside during daylight hours, only allowing her to venture outside at night when she explores her rural surroundings wearing her night vision goggles. As one might expect, Viola is different. She plays the viola with a skill well beyond her years, has never visited an art gallery, a public swimming pool or even McDonald’s. Her only friends are those she meets online (other kids with XP) and the animals she encounters on her nightly wanderings. She doesn’t seem overtly conflicted by this; after all she doesn’t expect to live long anyway.
In many ways its straightforward approach to storytelling lends this book to use with a younger, child audience. However, the darker elements of the story allow for deeper analysis best undertaken by older readers in the secondary years. The story should work well as an independent study, especially when paired with other books exploring the topic of young people facing mortality. I imagine it could work well with the likes of John Green’s “The Fault in our Stars”. Similarly, students will find rich comparisons between this and other stories with strong agricultural or earthy elements.
Despite being a mystery, I did feel that this was a weaker element of the story and one that was unsatisfactorily resolved (somewhat abruptly). That said I feel that many students will readily appreciate an analysis of the book purely in terms of the evocative atmosphere that West has crafted with her considerable skill.
Told simply in a style of writing that is sparse and consistently honest, West has created a narrative that manages to weave a hypnotic spell around the reader. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by West’s cold little story. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising considering its protagonist is in itself a compelling curiosity.
Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden
**Allen & Unwin provided me with a free review copy of this book. I have otherwise not been paid or rewarded for any review or endorsement of this book and the above opinions reflect my own unbiased view.**