- Publication date:1 April 2016
- Format:B format paperback
- Genres: fantasy, speculative fiction
- Age guide: Older Readers, 12+
By Isobelle Carmody
A finger on my eye, lifting the lid. Light spearing into my brain, but the touch is worse. Despair leaks from the fingertips and burns into me.
Most people have six limited senses.
But after a freak accident, Alyzon Whitestarr finds her senses growing. She hears and sees and smells things no one else can detect.
She begins to smell something truly terrible; a sickness of the spirit infecting some people, leading them to violence and destruction. It is only as she strives to discover its origin that she realises the infection is targeting people she loves, and that it is aware.
Tim Harris –
One of my favourite things about non-realist fiction is the capacity it gives writers to use fantastical elements to express nebulous, intangible concepts. In Alyzon Whitestarr, Isobelle Carmody does this very well, presenting a nuanced exploration of human nature and our equal capacity for both good and evil through the lens of Alyzon’s heightened senses, all the while telling a great, suspenseful story.
The narrative’s pacing is spot on. There’s always something to keep the pages turning, be it mystery and intrigue, character drama, or thriller-like suspense, but the story never feels unfocused. The prose itself is also very good. It reads well, and the odd combination of Alyzon’s practicality (which often leaves her rolling her eyes at the antics of those less firmly grounded in reality) with her often poetic way of thinking provides for both clever lines and great imagery. Carmody’s use of symbolism is subtle enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the story, without being so subtle as to be wasted.
Carmody does a great job of the balancing act of making her characters both distinctive and complex. The fantastic is again deployed to great effect here, summing up each character’s essence in a few images, and most characters also have some quirk that gives readers an easily memorable handle to remember them by. A lesser writer might leave it at that, but Carmody combines this with a depth of characterisation that really brings her characters to life and makes them feel more real. This complexity provides a stark contrast to those characters which Carmody presents as distinctly unreal. These seem uncannily one-dimensional, as if they are more expressions of the metaphysical malaise the narrative centres upon than they are humans.
Alyzon Whitestarr is an extremely enjoyable read. It is rare that a story combines nuance and accessibility so well. I would recommend it for readers aged fourteen and up who aren’t afraid to ask difficult questions regarding the human condition.
Emily Meldrum –
Ever wished you had extraordinary hearing, smell or vision? When Alyson Whitestarr wakes up in hospital after being in a coma for a month it takes her some time to realise the overwhelming surge upon her senses are just that. Her six senses are no longer at ordinary levels and her most remarkable skill becomes her ability to smell people’s feelings, their honesty, their essence. She can smell their goodness, their worries and ultimately some of their intent – good and bad.
While at first this daily barrage of extra information upon Alyzon is puzzling and even frightening, on her return to school she realises how much her world has changed. Her first encounter with the handsome Harlan demonstrates this fact, and for the first time ever she wants to run away from her crush. Harlen now smells like rotting meat and is actively chasing her, seeking a date! Alyzon is able to deduce that those people who are associated with a horrific smell are carrying some type of illness that no one else can see . . . When it appears that members of her own family are at risk Alyzon and her new friends must do everything they can to stop those responsible.
Carmody has captured many of the characters in this story beautifully and I must make special mention of Alyzon’s Da, Macoll – a grounded, talented musician with a warm heart and good soul. The other character I loved was Luke – Alyzon’s baby brother, whose simple goodness and youth was always able to allow Alyzon to block out the overload of her extra perception and bury herself in his innocence. As a secondary text the potential for class discussion is huge – character development and the skilful creation of sub text for literary focuses or links to other curriculum areas such as cults in today’s world are simply a few.
Title or story sound familiar? Alyzon Whitestarr is a re-edition of the original book first released in 2005. Carmody explains the re-print due partly to audience requests to find a copy and the other to human nature. While people have many positive attributes they are also able to display a darker flip side she finds troubling and believes that these opposing views of humanity still have currency a decade after the book’s original release. There is no doubt Alyzon Whitestarr is a story with multiple layers about humanity, good and evil. When the story builds to its peak, page turning becomes impossible to stop!