I just finished In the Company of Whispers, by Sallie Lowenstein (2008, Lion Stone Books, 360 pp). I am shaking a little, and sniffing. Oh my gosh. I don't think a book has had this much emotional effect on me since I first read Lois Lowry's The Giver* a few years ago (although unlike The Giver, this book is for young adult, or even adult, readers--not because of content, but because of pace and style).
In the Company of Whispers is a dystopia, set in the Greater East Coast Metropolis in 2047. The roaches are doing well; people, less so. High school student Zeyya comes home one day to find her apartment sealed, yellow quarantine tape across the door, and no parents. Ever again. She takes refuge with her grandmother, in what might be the last single family house in the hellish city. And there she meets Jonah, whose intricate tattoos apparently let him commune with his ancestors...who says he is from another place, another people, for whom the past is always present.
Zeyya's story is interspersed with flashbacks to her grandmother's childhood in Burma, told with pictures, letters, and quotations from historical and contemporary accounts of Burma. For the first half of the book, I found this distracting, and I wasn't quite sure I was going to like the book in general. But then, as I let myself simply take it in, I began to understand the point--the intersections of past and present, love and loss that are at the heart of the stories.
And somewhere past page 250 I began to cry off and on as I read...but I was careful not to let any tears actually fall on the book itself, for this book, qua book, is a thing of beauty. It is heavy and luxuriant, the pages are glossy, the reproductions of old photographs beautiful. And I think these choices in book-making serve the story well.
In the Company of Whispers is beautiful (and I'll add a picture of the cover when I get a new mouse...)
This book has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category, and I'd like to thank the publisher, Lion Stone Books, for sending each of us panelists a review copy.
Here are two other reviews, at Wands and Worlds, and at Becky's Book Reviews.
*Other reasons why I am reminded of The Giver, besides the dystopian part and the focus on the transmission of memories, are the obvious similarities of character name (Jonah here and Jonas there), and also the important role played by a wooden sled...