Sterling Wayfair is determined that his last year of high school will be the one where he truly defines himself – when he makes his mark and sets himself apart from his accomplished and charismatic friends
Then he meets Tetra, a woman from a whole other world who is mystically connected to him – and he realises he is far more unique than ever he imagined. And it comes with a mission far more important than setting himself apart from his fellows at school – or even finally screwing up the courage to ask Waverly, a girl he has a long crush on, out to the prom.
There’s a lot about this book I like. The concept of the book – with people from Noba fleeing to Geo to try and find sanctuary from a genocidal war that has been inflicted on their people by the Naga. This leads to two very interesting characters having to deal with this from separate angels
Tetra remembers Noba, knows Noba and is doing everything she can to preserve the last of her people, defeat the Naga and, especially, protect her bond-mate Sterling. We have some really excellent depictions of her trying to fit into Geo, a world that is pretty much a reflection of the US on Earth (honestly, you could replace "Geo" with "Ohio" and made no real difference). It’s really well done – from language mistakes, to different ideas of social taboos, to hobbies and rituals and attitudes: Tetra is a really excellent depiction of culture shock. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that so well presented a character so completely out of her depth and out of her element. It really does work well – this world is so alien to her and she often comes across as unkind simply because she is in such a different cultural context. She is a wonderful mix of extremely talented, hyper-capable and powerful while at the same time being so totally out of her depth. It’s a wonderful mix of capacity and vulnerability
There’s also her feelings towards Sterling – how she clearly cares a lot for him but she has had to separate herself from him for his own good, forcing her to face all the problems alone. If anything I think there could be more development of her pain over this.
Then we have Sterling who is struggling to get by in life as a very ordinary teenager. Struggling with romance, with school, with making his life and establish his own personality and impact in the shadow of some very accomplished best friends. On top of these very real and very well presented standard high school issues he then has Tetra come into his life, telling him all these incredible things, messing with his mind and his memory and telling him that just about everything he believed is wrong – on top of his own worries about his mental health and having to guide a rather tactless Tetra through the alien vagaries of school life.
I like that he’s not perfect, and recognises that. I like that no-one is perfect. They’re tactless and self-absorbed and often struggling but they care and they try and that’s so very human about them.
There was a lot of good friendship and a nice lack of the usual issues like over the top-cliquism and Mean Girl collective that we so often see in fiction. In fact, I quite liked that the quasi-mean-girl Marjorie was shown to be a full person and defined as a decent enough character beyond her occasional snide remarks.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the same attention has gone into the other characters and I didn’t really engage with Kip or Grey or Waverly or anyone else around Tetra and Sterling. Maybe that’s because Tetra and Sterling are such excellent characters, but the end result was that the end of the book didn’t have nearly the impact I think it was supposed to have. Who lived or died, who loved who etc, was all somewhat irrelevant to me