Saturday, 20 February 2016

Review: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi HeiligNetGalleyThe Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (eProof) - Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times - although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix's father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix's existence rather dangerously in question...

Nix has grown used to her father's obsession, but only because she's convinced it can't work. But then a map falls into her father's lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it's that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.
From Goodreads.

I wanted to read The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig from the moment I heard about it on Barnes and Noble's Blog. I was elated to hear Hot Key Books would be publishing it in the UK, and that we'll get to read it soon without ordering it from the US. As soon as I saw it was available on NetGalley, I snapped it up, and oh my god, it's so, so, so good!

Nix lives with her father, Captain Slate, and their crew on the time-travelling ship, The Temptation. As long as they have a map of a destination from the time they wish to travel to, they can go anywhere and anywhen. Slate is obsessed to the point of distraction with finding a map from 1868 Honolulu, Hawaii, when his wife died, to try and save her life. The only problem is, she died during childbirth when Nix was born. If Slate manages to save his wife, what will happen to Nix? When Slate discovers there is a map that may very well take them to 1868 Honolulu, he needs Nix's help to get it. She can help her father, and risk her very existence, or she can refuse - but Slate is threatening to abandon Kashmir, Nix's best friend, in a place and time she can never return to, if she doesn't help him. It's time for Nix to decide what's more important; trying to please a father who seems barely interested in her until she can help him; Kash, for whom she's beginning to have feelings for; or her own life.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved this book! I was absolutely gripped by this story, dying to know where it would it lead and what would happen, but more than that, I was taken in by the sumptuous storytelling. The Girl From Everywhere is a treasure trove of beauty, when it comes to describing the wonderful island of Oahu, and detail; given her home is a time-travelling ship, Nix has nurtured a love for history and mythology, and there is so much information woven into this story, I was completely swept away by it all. And with Heilig's master storytelling, it didn't feel like an info dump or a dry history lesson, it was all delicately woven in to the plot of the story. Although The Girl From Everywhere is sci-fi meets historical, it had a magical realism feel to it, where myths and the magical are real, as long as you had the right map.

I was completely taken by the cast of characters, and loved how diverse they were. Half Chinese and half American, Nix is a brave, smart, and resourceful young woman, who has quite a modern voice despite when she was born - due to the fact that she's been brought up by a father from present day New York. She's quick and clever, and I just loved her. She's also stubborn, and determined to work out how to navigate and flee to time-travel away from her father, for the safety of her existence, and because of the unintentional hurt she's always caused by a father who is obsessed with a woman who died 16 years ago. I wish we had more of Bee and Rotgut, two of the other crew members, because they were so interesting! Bee is an African woman from a long ago past, part of a tribe that believed that those who die are still with their loved ones, and so she is forever talking about and to Ayen, her deceased wife. Rotgut is a Chinese man who used to be a monk before running away and joining the crew of The Temptation. Bee is friend and an almost-mother-figure to Nix, and offers advice and friendship, and kind words when her father is present but absent. Rotgut... we got less of him, and I can't tell you much about him other than that he does the cooking and loves fishing for the food he cooks, but I really liked him, too!

And Kashmir! Oh, Kashmir! A young Persian man from a mythical Iran, he is quick witted and flirty, hugely self-confident, and one of the most talented thieves I've come across in fantasy. I loved him! And his relationship with Nix was so beautiful! Theirs is a slow blossoming romance, it's all under the surface and subtle, but they're hints and flirty banter that might be more than banter, and it's just so gorgeous! He doesn't push it though, he doesn't force Nix into a conversation she's not ready for. Because Kash is her best friend, and she loves him and what they have so much. Yes, she's coming to realise feelings are slowly but surely developing for him, but she doesn't want to risk or complicate what they already have. And so Kash kind of gently places hints about how he feels, and leaves it up to Nix to decide what to do with them, whether that's choosing not to read more into what he's saying, ignore the fact that there might even be more to what he's saying anyway, or face exactly what he's saying head on, and respond. The ball's in Nix's court, and he gives her the space to work things out - both that he feels something for her, and to work out what it is she feels for him. It's the sweetest damn thing ever, and oh my god, I want a Kash of my own! All this sweetness doesn't take away from just how hilarious he is, with his quips and self-confidence. I just love this boy, and I would like more of him. And, with how this story is set up, with all it's different times and places and history, I think it would be perfectly do-able if Heilig ever wanted to write a short story from his point of view of when he first joined The Temptation. So a The Girl From Everywhere 0.5. Or maybe one set between The Girl From Everywhere and the as yet untitled sequel, The Girl From Everywhere 1.5, from his point of view on an adventure with Nix, but where we get into his head and get more of what he feels for her. Or just any kind of short story from his point of view, because I just love him so. Just putting that out there.

And now Slate. He is such a complicated character. I kind of loathe him and feel so unbearably sorry for him at the same time. He is so desperately lost without his wife, Lin, that even 16 years on, his every waking thought is about trying to find a way back to her. He is obsessed - the bad kind of obsessed where he thinks of little else, least of all his own daughter who's very existence is on the line. When Slate has hope, he is so deliriously happy, so unbelievably euphoric. Nix finds it difficult to say no to him when he's like this; yes, helping him is hazardous for her, but despite how he treats her, he's still her father and she loves him, and wants him to be happy. And when he's hoping and needing her help, she has her father back, if briefly. But when hope is dashed - as they have found various maps of Honolulu in 1868 in the past that have just failed in getting them there - Slate falls into the depths of the darkest despair. His only way of coping is to shut himself in his quarters and get so high on opium, he's completely out of it for days at a time. I suspected throughout the novel that Slate might be bipolar, but this is never discussed, so I couldn't say for sure.**

Although the stories are very different, the experience of reading The Girl From Everywhere was a lot like my experience of reading Harry Potter*; it evoked the same feelings of wonder, excitement and awe! And despite the fact I read all the time, The Girl From Everywhere reminded me of what reading is all about - those feelings, the wonder, excitement and awe, are what I hope for every time I open a book. Reading this book was like discovering reading for the very first time, again. I have a feeling that The Girl From Everywhere - and subsequent books - are going to be books I read over and over again.

The Girl From Everywhere is perfect and wonderful, and I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel! It's such an incredible debut novel, and I am so excited by the thought of all the books she'll write. I cannot praise this book enough! I need you all to read it, so we can rave about this gem of a book together.

*Please note, I am not saying The Girl From Everywhere is like the Harry Potter books. These books are in no way similar when it comes to plot. I'm saying The Girl From Everywhere made me feel the same way as I felt when reading Harry Potter. Do not read this book and expect Harry Potter, because that isn't what you're going to get.

**21/03/15 - ETA: Slate does have bipolar disorder, as Heidi Heilig discusses in an interview with Disability in Kidlit.

Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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Published: 3rd March 2016
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Heidi Heilig's Website

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