On Being Blue: Maria Dahvana Headley’s MAGONIA

Article by marycatherine

by Mary-Catherine Breed

On paper, MAGONIA shouldn’t work. It contains a sick teenager as the main character, an elaborate dual world storyline, birds that live in your chest and make you sing songs that can turn mountains into water—nothing too new to the YA realm (well, except for the bird thing…). The bad marketing tagline of this book would be, “Did you love THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, but wish it had more sky pirates and birds that take human form? Have we got the book for you!” I repeat: on paper, this book shouldn’t work.

And yet…it works. It totally works.

Aza Ray Boyle is a child of two worlds—she just doesn’t know it yet. All she has ever known is a rare lung condition—she’s the only reported case on Earth—that leaves her perpetually weak, short of breath, and a little blue (as in the color, not a melancholy disposition). Her best friend, Jason, is the crushworthy nerd of all of our dreams, and they bond over things like giant squid videos and endearing uses of parentheses. The possibility of Aza’s death hangs heavy in everyone’s consciousness, but it never weighs you down. The interactions between Aza and Jason possess gravity, not leaden sentimentality. In another book, the scene where Aza is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance only to die en route in the midst of a lightning storm would be the big climactic finish, but this isn’t any other book. After all, I have yet to mention Magonia, the world of ships flying through the sky to which Aza is whisked during said lightning storm. I have yet to mention how she can breathe easily on the ship for the first time in her life. I have yet to mention how everyone on the ship is blue.

Now the story is really getting started.

In alternating perspectives, Jason’s refusal to give up on Aza—whom he (sort of) believes to be dead—and Aza’s adjustments to life in Magonia keep us balanced between these two very different worlds. Emotional family drama meets swashbuckling sky pirates. Coping skills and full body grief juxtaposed with training montages and skywhales who cry acid rain. On both sides, loyalties stretch and personalities fracture under pressure.

This book has so much going on, and somehow, somehow does it with restraint. It could have easily been a 600 page tome of details and diagrams (full disclosure: I love those, too), but author Maria Dahvana Headley trusts the reader to fill in a lot of gaps on their own. Her writing is more stylized than I’m used to in YA fare, and it adds to the sense that MAGONIA is elevated in a genre commonly maligned for lackluster writing and cliche plots (accusations I disagree with, by the way, and I’d be happy to craft a reading list for you to back it up). The aforementioned adorable parentheses leave literal gaps for the reader to fill in, but there are also instances of BOLD TYPE, cascading waterfalls of words, jilted and disoriented descriptions, and instances where the narrative runs ahead of you but stays visible in glimpses up ahead, through the clouds. It’s a reading experience crafted to envelop you in the story, to convey feelings to you in a visceral, sensual way. MAGONIA is the child of speculative fiction parents and modernist grandparents. There are enough details that the world is full and complex and makes sense, but not so many as to distract from the characters and their emotional journeys. Because ultimately, as cliche as it sounds, this is a book about finding your place. And about how sometimes it doesn’t look like you think it will or think it should. And about how sometimes people are places, sometimes people are home, more than any physical location could be. It’s about friendship and fluttering hearts and feeling strong and moving mountains and and and…

This book is about a lot of things. This book is for a lot of people. This book most definitely works.

Magonia Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062320520
Availability: Backordered
Published: HarperCollins - April 28th, 2015

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