Let’s begin with some links:
The ToC for Steampunk Revolutions!
Here’s a link to “The Inconstant Moon” by Alaya Dawn Johnson.
Now, onto the review.
Neesha Meminger’s Into the Wise Dark focuses on the adventures of Pammi, a girl who lives in the in-between spaces of several worlds. She’s Indian and American; she’s had a stint or two in the mental health system before being judged “well”; she’s a high school graduate planning to start a year-long volunteer program before going off to college. She also, psychically, travels between her present and the past world of Zanum, the home of her ancestors, where she’s got a boyfriend, a grandmother-figure, and is loved. In order to get to Zanum, she travels through the Dark.
Pammi normally keeps Zanum a secret; after all, her telling others about her experiences there led her mother to put her into therapy. So, when she discovers that her summer internship involves mentoring girls who, like her, have hidden powers, and who believe her when she talks about Zanum, it seems like a dream come true… until Pammi discovers that her travelling between worlds may have put Zanum (and her new friends) into danger. What follows is a multitemporal story of friendship, featuring psychic powers, trust, and love, all told in Pammi’s wry, sometimes cynical, voice.
What I especially enjoyed about this work is the casual diversity of the characters; not only is the narrator South Asian, the other characters she knows who are South Asian reflect the reality of that diaspora. Plus, the girls at the center are ethnically diverse as well, in a refreshing break from the white monochromaticism of much supernatural YA… particularly because Meminger’s characters emerge as distinct, off-beat, charming individuals, whose quirks move the story further and really show the kind of world-building superhero YA is capable of. Meminger’s teen girls sound like teen girls, not like the lifeless caricatures you see in movies like Twilight. Plus, the teen girls at the center have been through the wringer; the adults in their lives have, in many ways, abandoned them. They’ve now turned to each other for support, and Pammi’s struggle to earn their trust (something difficult for her to do since she’s new, she’s got a cushy life, and her mom loves her) feels real. Moreover, it feels worthwhile, like the friendship of these girls can and ought to mean something. It’s this friendship that drives Pammi’s struggle to save Zanum, and gives this heroine’s quest vitality.
Fans of Meminger’s earlier work will note that this Pammi is a secondary character in Jazz in Love.