Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

Plus One
Elizabeth Fama

Farrar, Straus & Giroux
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher
Released April 8, 2014
373 pages
YA / Romance / Alt-History

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Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.

Plus One requires a giant jump into a world that doesn’t quite make sense or at least a very large case of hand-waving. From the beginning the world didn’t really sit with me. During an outbreak of a plague in the early 20th century, the government had workers on the clock 24 hours out of the day, inadvertently creating a culture that lived primarily during the day and another that lived during the night. As the plague disappeared, the government decided this 24 culture was the way to go and permanently split the country between Rays (those lucky enough to be allowed to live during the day) and Smudges (those forced to live in a perpetual world of night).

By the very nature of the concept, Rays and Smudges don’t mix very often, only during the occasional permitted day where the two can legally mix. They live very different lives with Smudges being much more likely to be poorer than their daylight counterparts. There isn’t really any explanation on why there seems to be a socioeconomic inbalance between the two, which might have been the main reason the world itself kept making my brain itch a little.

Looking past the strangeness of the world, Plus One is a Romeo and Juliet type love story with a caper adventure thrown in. Sol is a Smudge factory worker who lives with her dying grandfather. The only bright (ha!) part of her life is her school desk partner who collaborates on graffiti she creates during class. After her brother is “upgraded” to Ray status due to his expertise at computer hacking, Sol believes that she and her grandfather have been abandoned, so she creates an elaborate plot to steal her newborn niece so that her grandfather can meet his great grandchild once before he passes.

It’s an elaborate plot that would have in no way work had she not crossed paths with D’Arcy, a medical intern Ray who is tasked with treating the self-inflicted injury she uses as her excuse to get into the hospital. He inadvertently helps her gain access to her niece and starts a crazy romp through an alternate Chicago, full of mistaken identities, mob-like entities and enough half-truths to fill a soap opera.

Plus One never really slows down and Fama introduces several very intriguing characters that bring life to her strange world. Sol isn’t the brightest bulb, but she has a caring heart that nearly makes up for it. She’s not very good at thinking things through or really caring enough about herself to consider consequences to her actions. This can make her a very frustrating character to follow, but at the same time, it’s the unthinking impulsiveness that causes any surprises within the story itself.

D’Arcy is a harder character to crack. He’s a privileged Ray with what we’re led to believe is a very unique family history that makes him sympathetic to Sol. Yet he goes above and beyond what makes any sort of sense from early on in his relationship with her. Once they become more familiar with each other by the mid-point of the book, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched, but based on his character traits described at the beginning, his drastic actions go beyond simple empathy.

Despite describing it as a Romeo and Juliet type book, the romance element is kept to a minimum and presented more realistically than goo-goo eyed. It also often takes a backseat to the more conspiracy pieces of the plot, which was fine with me. There are a few emotional moments, but overall Fama sticks to action and mystery with a fair amount of running. While I may have had initial issues with the world itself, Fama has created a compelling mystery with imperfect characters that weaves a sweet little love story into all the action.

 

I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thoughts are my own.