Isla Morley – Above

islamorley-aboveNOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS…

Blythe, a sixteen-year-old Kansas schoolgirl is abducted and kept in an abandoned silo by a survivalist, who is convinced that the world is about to end.

Struggling to survive, crushed by loneliness and the terrifying madness of her captor, Blythe resists the temptation to give up. Nothing, however, prepares her for the burden of having to raise a child in confinement.

Just when Blythe starts to believe that she may be confined to the silo for life, their lives are ambushed by one event that is at once promising and devastating…

THINK YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN? YOU REALLY DON’T…

Isla Morley’s Above was Hodderscape’s Review Project title for the month of April – a project that I’m woefully behind on, something I aim to fix in the near future – and when I first received my ARC and read the synopsis, I was all kinds of intrigued. The notion of children, and sadly it’s most often girls, being snatched and hidden away horrifies me, both as a human being and as a mum. I can only imagine the pain Blythe’s parents go through when she disappeared, however Above doesn’t consider this at all. Above is all about Blythe, about her experiences and her captivity; we feel her panic, her anger, her despair and eventually her hope for a better, different life. Above delivers a harrowing tale, one that has a happy ending with a giant twist, which was fascinating not because ‘Whoa! Apocalypse’, but because of the emotional turmoil it throws Blythe into and the fascinating questions it poses of both Blythe and the reader. 

The story in Above literally has two halves. The first half is called Below, where we join Blythe the moment she comes to inside the Silo that is to be her home for the next half of her life. It is a truly contained narrative taking place inside a silo with only Blythe, Dobbs, and Adam as active characters. The second half is called Above where we follow Blythe and Adam out of the silo and into a world changed beyond reckoning. While they don’t move that far from the silo physically, they may have travelled to the moon for all that Blythe feels alienated by what she finds in the world above and in a painful way she finds she initially has as little agency interacting with the people outside as she had in her captivity with Dobbs. The contrast between the two situations is only heightened by the helplessness Blythe feels in both.

Blythe is our window on to the world as we see it in Above. Throughout the novel Morley sticks close to Blythe’s point of view and due to the isolation of her captivity we necessarily spend a lot of time inside her head. We follow Blythe’s development from a scared teen convinced she’ll be rescued at any moment, into a young woman resigned to surviving as best she can, and finally into a mother bent on escape to save her son. I found myself going from being scared for her to being scared with her, especially in the latter half of the book and I found it hard to step out of her head space when putting the book down. Morley brings Blythe’s emotions alive and to the surface without falling into melodrama. Blythe’s voice is surprisingly dynamic, confined and isolated though she is.

Our other main character is Adam. Blythe’s son, well-loved by her, more mentored than parented by Dobbs, he’s a true innocent. Born underground, isolated from humanity, only knowing his parents until he reaches fifteen, he truly is Adam in more ways than one. He’s not just Blythe’s best hope for a future, but humanity’s as well. While Adam is an important character, he’s still always seen through Blythe’s eyes. And she loves him fiercely and, she comes to discover, jealously. Unused to sharing his attention, trust, and love with anyone other than Dobbs, who both Adam and Blythe refer to as Mister, when they meet other people she has a really hard time accepting what she feels is an invasion and a threat. I love Adam’s free spirit and the way we get to see the world made anew through his child-like wonder, when they finally leave the silo.

Apart from Blythe and Adam, there are really only a handful of characters that play more than a background role. The most important of these is Blythe’s captor and Adam’s father Dobbs. He’s a disturbed and unbalanced individual, a survivalist convinced that the apocalypse IS coming and he WILL be prepared. And he’s a predator, who clearly groomed Blythe to be his chosen Eve. But he’s fiendishly clever and he’s prepared everything really well, having covered his tracks and making quite sure Blythe will never be found.

Morley incorporates some fascinating world building in Above and it’s done despite a very close focus on Blythe’s inner life and her point of view. Not much is explained directly, we learn most of it through the details in the background. Especially once we learn about the events above during Blythe’s incarceration, previously innocuous details slot into place and complete the puzzle. I thought this was really well done and while I quickly figured out what the twist would be when Blythe came out, Morley’s execution of said twist was gripping.

Above is a riveting story, though it can be slow in some places. I found myself drawn deeply into Blythe’s character, the more so the older she gets. Morley focuses closely on the psychological conflict inherent to Blythe’s situation and the internal struggle she engages in during the last quarter of the book where she tries to come to grips with her anger at Dobbs and the need to perhaps acknowledge that he might also have saved her life. I enjoyed this book tremendously, if that is the correct word for such a harrowing tale, but if you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction and psychological thrillers, Above might provide you with the perfect blend of both.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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