“Mirror in the Sky” Review: or, what happens when you force something into YA

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana. Razorbill: 2016.

Mirror in the Sky book coverI read a book! It’s called Mirror in the Sky, and it was written by Aditi Khorana. (I couldn’t figure out an intro to this post – could you tell??)

I heard about his book from Kristina Horner, a YouTuber who does a lot of BookTube stuff. She read it as part of her book club a while back, and I decided to read it, too, but didn’t get to it till now. I’m just gonna be upfront: it was not great.

The book takes place in contemporary times, and it has a science fiction-y twist: the basic premise is that a mirror version of Earth is discovered by scientists which is pretty much an exact copy of our Earth, except with small differences. For example, an image is transmitted from the mirror Earth (called Terra Nova) of a woman standing in a marketplace wearing a red coat. The same exact photo from Earth is identical in every way, except the woman is wearing a blue coat. It is assumed that there are mirror versions of every person on Earth, but the Terra Nova versions are alternate versions of us – versions that may have made different life decisions, from small things like buying a different color coat, to big things like, highlight for spoiler, their version of Virginia Woolf deciding not to commit suicide. This makes the people on Earth go a little bit crazy.

The protagonist, Tara (Terra? See it? Eh?), is an Indian American living in a non-wealthy part of a very wealthy East Coast town and is basically your average teen struggling with friend drama and “I-don’t-fit-in”-ness. Her junior year begins with her one and only friend, Meg, going to study abroad, so Tara is left on her own in the terrifying environment that is a high school cafeteria. Later in the day, the school fire alarm goes off. Tara decides to take a stroll down the sidewalk and witnesses a dog get hit by a car, which devastates her beyond belief. Turns out the dog belonged to the most perfect and popular girl in school, Halle, and in the aftermath, Tara falls in with the popular crowd. This is the stereotypical popular crowd that Tara watched from afar for so many years with a stereotypical popular girl whose stereotypical popular boyfriend Tara had been in love with since the fourth grade. Yes, I just used the word “stereotypical” 3 times in one sentence, but, to the book’s credit, the characters are actually very well fleshed-out, complex, and engaging. Despite the trope-y-ness of the situation, the characters had unique voices and personalities that I enjoyed reading about, especially Halle and her friend Veronica.

But the voices, however enjoyable, were not what I would call typical for a YA book starring teenagers. And herein lies my biggest problem with the book in general: it should not have been YA. And I don’t mean that the book could just be re-branded and shelved in the adult section, but that the writing itself seemed like it was trying to hold back. Khorana is clearly an incredibly intelligent writer. She has adult characters explaining things like the Multiverse theory and Schrodinger’s Cat to the teen characters (and by proxy, teen readers), yet at the same time, her teen characters make remarks about liberalism and education and economics like they are grad students… who should probably know what the Multiverse theory and Schrodinger’s Cat are. There’s like a weird dissonance/identity crisis in this book of intellectualism versus dumbing-down-ness for teens. I would not be the least bit surprised if this book was originally supposed to be written for adults, but the editors and marketers decided that YA would sell it better, and so it was sloppily edited down to be YA. That’s what it read like. Or maybe the author intended it to be YA from the beginning but just couldn’t reel in her natural tendency towards the literary – she does have an impressive resume in journalism and marketing for major corporations, and surprise, this is her first novel.

People picking up this book should also note that although it appears very science fiction-y from all angles, it is in fact not very science fiction-y. The description and cover design are misleading, which had me slightly confused and waiting for something, well, more, to happen regarding Terra Nova. Spoiler: nothing does. The book is actually just about Earth people. The existence of parallel versions of people who made different life decisions than them makes many Earthlings start to wonder “what-if,” Tara included. Her mom even goes so far as to join a new cult religion over it. So the story is actually about us as humans on Earth and has little plot regarding the actual Terra Nova planet. It’s about the nature of humans as products of our decisions, and it’s actually a great concept. I was ultimately not disappointed at the lack of science fiction plot because it made the book unique. Terra Nova is just a minor detail – the story is about us. It’s a beautiful concept.

I understand why other readers were frustrated at the lack of science fiction because it is quite misleading, but I thought that the sf taking a back seat created a refreshing and unique book with intelligent themes and characters. I just wish it would have not seemed so shoe-horned into the YA category; it would have done better in adult fiction. 3/5 stars

blog rating 3 stars

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8 thoughts on ““Mirror in the Sky” Review: or, what happens when you force something into YA

  1. Vijayalakshmi Harish says:

    Wonderful review! Tara, in Hindi, means star, so I thought maybe it was really sci-fi. But somehow knowing it isn’t sci-fi isn’t making a difference to my wanting to read it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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