Title: Flying in Place
Author: Susan Palwick
Number of Pages: 192
Rating : A-
Trigger Warning(s): Child Rape, Anorexia, Child Death
Twelve-year-old Emma’s day-to-day existence is hellish; she lives in the shadow of her dead, ‘perfect’ sister Ginny and her dad comes into her room late at night and rapes her. She’s sure her snobbish, pseudo-intellectual mother won’t believe her if she tells her what’s happening or that it will kill her, and her father is a well-liked and successful doctor who has gotten away with abuse for years.
Emma is overweight and lonely, and she starts to dissociate and float up above her body when her dad is raping her. It’s there that she meets the spirit of the sister who died before she was born. Ginny takes her places and helps her temporarily escape her pain but when she tries to help Emma out of her situation Emma fights against her painful but inevitable return to reality.
Simply put, this was a beautiful book about truly difficult and painful subject matter. Emma’s dad’s monstrous actions and her mom’s impassivity offer stark contrast to the family of Emma’s friend Jane, a rough but caring brood who offer support to her and defend Jane when she injures a boy who touches her inappropriately.
The book does an excellent job of pulling the reader into Emma’s mind and the slanted way she perceives things because of her abuse. Ginny is also a well-written character, and I loved the way the author melded fantasy and reality. It really didn’t feel like a fantasy because of the gritty way the subject matter was handled and a lot of it is very much based on psychology and the way the human mind responds to trauma.
The ghost being real (as opposed to a figment of Emma’s imagination) is what makes it fantasy and it does become clear throughout the course of the book that Ginny’s spirit is really influencing events. I think this worked better than if it had all been in her imagination.
My one (minor) criticism is that the parents’ characters felt over-the-top at times, and the dad’s dialogue in particular had a tendency towards sounding like a cartoon villain. Otherwise, this is a masterfully written and powerful work about a girl fighting for her autonomy in a seemingly impossible situation.