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SLJ Blog Network
infandousInfandous by Elana K Arnold
March 2015, Carolrhoda Lab
Reviewed from final ebook

I’ve been on a bit of a strange kick here at the end of this season. Untwine and Moonshot in particular really blew me away, but didn’t pick up a lot of stars between them. Infandous is somewhat similar in that it got two stars and didn’t make a year’s best list — and I really loved it. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve talked before about the differences between stars and Printz votes, but…sometimes it does feel funny to be so rave-y about something that not every reviewer gave a star to. And I must acknowledge, as far as this specific title goes, I’m an easy mark; if you have a book on women, society, double standards, and fairy tales, then I’m pretty guaranteed to be first in line. So will this be a book that makes it to the final five? Well, for committee members who are most likely reading and rereading, that’s…hard to say.

There’s a lot here that works well. The writing and characterization (particularly Sephora’s) is very strong. Sephora manages to sound both like a Real Life teen and also to have a keen eye for detail. The writing is spare and often beautiful. Seph’s observations about the people in her life are sharp. Arnold does a good job of allowing her voice to sketch out the relationships without getting dragged into details. This is a short book (under 200 pages), and Arnold wisely keeps Seph front and center. The more peripheral characters, like Rebecca, Marissa and Jordan, don’t shine quite as brightly, but still feel fleshed out; Sephora’s relationships with them feel weighted with history.

Arnold includes 5 bracketing stories, taken from mythology, folktales, and fairy tales. They are well chosen and tied tightly to each section of the book that they introduce. They resonate within the narrative, shaping it, allowing readers to make predictions and inferences, but never felt too on-the-nose. The motif of storytelling — as communication, as misdirection, as speaking truth too painful to otherwise share — is really well done. These stories reinforce the generational levels of the story, and also contribute to the commentary on double standards.

Speaking of! There are some literary ties to Lolita, which I haven’t read since high school (where my reaction was “ugh” and “well, I won’t be repeating that”), so I may not be the best person to be reviewing this book. However! Fortunately for me, the connection to Lolita is not crucial to understanding; the commentary on sexual double standards is accessible to all readers, often enhanced by the bracketing fairy tales.

Sephora is an artist, and Arnold does a nice job of both talking about her work and its visual impact, and also keeping in focus the tactile experience of making art. Somehow I feel like there are ties between all of Sephora’s art and the setting — she is constantly finding pieces to use in her sculptures, and having them be made from pieces scavenged from Venice Beach just ties it together for me. In any case, Arnold establishes a strong sense of place. It’s gritty and lived in, yet quirky, and a loved spot.

So there’s a long list of things that work well here. There are a couple of weak points that RealCommittee may be wrestling with at the table. For me, they are all tied to the same thing: the ending. Once we have all our revelations (and I’m being deliberately vague here, but we can let loose with spoilers in the comments), we don’t have anywhere to go with them, really. To be totally honest, I’m not sure what else I think I need to know from this story, so maybe it’s just me — but I’d have liked a little more time for Seph to settle in to her state of acceptance. I think part of my problem here is that the Big Revelation relies a lot on chance, and it’s compounded by the Jordan-Joaquin revelation. (Again, deliberate vagueness; spoilers welcome in the comments!) There’s just…a lot of coincidences going on. And while I was so happy for Seph to find some measure of peace, it all felt a little abrupt.

Will this be a problem for RealCommittee? It’s hard to say, but for the purposes of the blog here, I’m going to have to go with “probably.” I mean, maybe. Though like with Untwine (or Moonshot), I’d love to be surprised! Basically, I’m a soft no on this, but am happy to be convinced otherwise. Convince me in the comments?

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