Book Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

First of all, let me say that this is a marvellous, marvellous concept. And poorly executed. Where do I begin? Aza and Jason have identical voices. Don’t we want our characters to sound distinct, to make them more believable as real people? What’s more, their shared voice is annoying. Here’s why:

1) Headley tried to use experimental writing, like making words vertical, changing font sizes, and adding random punctuation. I realize that this was probably supposed to be creative and somehow deep, but it added no value to the story. If you’re going to do something like that, it has to have a true purpose and be far more consistent throughout the book, not interspersed between blocks of regular prose.
2) Aza and Jason actually narrate in annoying Tumblr teeny-bopper talk. Examples: “Because reasons,” “Um,” ending a sentence with “which” and then starting a new one to continue the train of thought. And stopping in the middle of a sentence with a question mark? It’s not cute. Maybe it was meant to be relatable and original and funny, but it just sounded stupid, especially when they narrated that way during serious moments.

Also, there was so much telling rather than showing in this book. So much. Which was incredibly disappointing. Don’t tell me that you’re “broken and messed up”; make me feel it. A lot of the action scenes with potential for description and tension were sped through in this telling manner, too. I want to live vicariously through a book, not read a report.

And I can only suspend my disbelief so much. No, no, I’m not talking about the other world in the sky and Aza’s miraculous life story. I can believe all that. What I can’t believe is that at sixteen, Jason owns his own factory, has all the resources in the world at his hands like some sort of mega-mob-boss, and “knows too much” so the Feds are following him and he doesn’t understand why they haven’t killed him yet. Please, Maria Dahvana Headley. And to add to that, why is Aza so loyal to the Magonians, who so clearly just want to use her, when she’s only been with them for a few weeks? She criticizes the people of earth for starving some Magonians (Magonia relies on Earth in a parasitic manner) and damaging the wildlife of the sky. Really? Is it anything new that we Earthlings ruin our planet and our atmosphere? Why is it upsetting now? Why was it not upsetting when Aza thought she was human and her fellow humans were suffering? All this, yet she realizes that Earth isn’t even aware of Magonia’s existence. Maybe if the Magonians had treated her more like family and a friend than a tool from the start, I would have believed in her bond with them. Maybe if the book had been drawn out a little more, had been better developed, this would have fixed a lot of problems. As it was, it felt like too much was crammed into 308 pages. The world-building and the story idea were brilliant and deserve so much more than what they got.

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