Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: The Girl in the Road

The Girl in the RoadAuthor: Monica Byrne
Series: Standalone
Released: September 2015
Publisher: Blackfriars
Length: 319 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

Stunningly original and wildly inventive, The Girl in the Road melds the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern for a dazzling debut.
Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.
Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.
As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force. 

The Girl in the Road follows bravely in the footsteps of some of the most famous science fiction authors. It is a very ambitious debut project, but Monica Byrne is more than up to the task. In it, she offers an elaborate vision of our future, focusing mostly on new energy sources. Byrne takes her time in explaining the new sources of energy and the advancements in existing ones. Her imagination is largely based on possibilities and probabilities, which gives her world an almost tangible quality. In addition, with a story set partly in India and partly in Africa, she gives us a clear view of different cultures with a very modern twist.

Bryne’s writing style is very thick, lush and intense. She sometimes jumps randomly from memory to memory, event to event, which gives her narrative a dreamlike quality, an amount of uncertainty in how much of it is real and how much is happening inside Meena’s head. And Meena’s head, let me tell you, is a wondrous place, filled with seemingly odd conclusions and paranoid jumps.

The story is full of symbolism, with meaning hidden behind meaning in several layers. Snake is the most prominent symbol, often mentioned throughout the book, reminding us constantly of ouroboros, the mythological symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. It symbolizes renewal, the endless cycle, things that end only to begin again. It’s easy to see why it is central in Meena’s story.

“The snake begins and ends all things, of course.”

The Girl in the Road is practically bursting with diversity of all types. Meena is Ethiopian and bisexual and her former lover – her one great love – transitioned from man to woman while they were together. When you add to that cultural diversity, The Girl in the Road becomes a novel one can read, enjoy, but also learn from. Byrne approaches all these things matter-of-factly, as one should, and the result is a book that is freeing and feministic, even though it might make a more conservative reader run for the hills.

Neil Gaiman wrote that it is transfixing to watch Monica Byrne become a major player in science fiction, and as usual, Neil Gaiman was right. With such a strong debut behind her, who knows what she has in store for us next.

A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.


  1. Good Lord! It's like you hit the motherload of diversity here. That in itself is reason enough to read it!

  2. Wow, this has a lot added to the mix. It takes talent to pull something like that off, so it's encouraging to see that you liked it so much. I am super interested in many of those themes.

    1. Looks like I already have it!! I must've grabbed during a price drop not too long ago.

  3. I love that this has so much diversity, and the worldbuilding and writing sound fantastic. I'm definitely adding this one to my wishlist, Maja!

  4. It's great that the book present so many things. To have so many symbols. It's the first time I hear about the author but I'll take a closer look now. great review!

  5. Omg it comes recommended from Gaiman!?!? I really want to try this book! Also: SO MUCH DIVERSITY YAY.
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

  6. Okay, I am ashamed to say that this one had totally slipped under my radar but THANK YOU SO MUCH for having it here Maja, now I will fix that mistake and get my hands on it STAT!

  7. Such a gorgeous review Maja! Meena sounds like a fascinating character, and her head both an amazing and slightly jumbled place to be. Definitely adding this to the list. Anytime you give something 4.5 starts I know I need to read it!

  8. Wow! This book sounds like it has a lot going on. I love it when I can learn something from a book while at the same time being entertained! Plus I love that cover. I'm going to need to look for this one!
    Great review, Maja! :)

  9. It does take a lot to pull this type of read off and it sounds like the author did it beautifully! Great review Maja, this sounds so intriguing!

  10. Um, speechess. I wonder why I haven't seen any hype or hoopla about this book - it sounds incredible, beautiful! Awesome review!!

  11. I have to say just from the cover I don't think this would be my sort of bag but actually when I start to read your review, it might be something I would enjoy. I haven't read a good sci-fi in a while. Thanks for putting it on my radar. :)

  12. I have this one on my tbr pile. I actually wanted to order it for my public library, but the initial cover was so blah that I didn't think anyone would pick it up. It sounds awesome to me anyway.

  13. I haven't read her - how silly am I? Going over to GR right now to check her out. Thanks for pointing the way, Maja :)

  14. I haven't seen this one, but it sounds like one I might love. I am always up for complexity and wonderful writing. Adding to the pile. BTW... started Anatomy of Curiosities last night, it is fabulous, you so need to read it.

  15. This sounds strange but in a really good way. I hadn't heard of it before but now I'm dying of curiosity. I'll have to look it up!

  16. I've been wanting to read this since it came out in the US, and your review has just reminded me about it again. I will seriously have to try to make time for it!

  17. I loved this book, it was just immense and lush so glad you enjoyed it too!


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