What I Liked:
If you follow my reviews, you probably know that I adore books about people with powers. Stranger is totally awesome in this regard. The short version is that radiation from the sun affected the world, sending it into a post-apocalyptic state. Some people have undergone The Change, meaning that they are no longer ordinary humans. The Change happens at some point of hormonal upheaval in the body, like adolescence, menopause, or pregnancy (which totally means women will probably develop badass powers more often). The powers range from completely useless (like a guy who can grow little horns out of his head) to totally epic (like Jennie who is telekinetic). The powers are a total luck of the draw and there’s a lot of creativity in the various things people can do. What I like here is that the results of the change are not the same superpowers in every book.
The other difference from other superhuman books is that nature has been affected as well. Now, I know that’s not totally new either, but again I thought it was done so well. There are these singing trees that throw out crystal shards that kill the victim, turning it into a new tree, which takes on the color of the victim’s clothing or hide. There are rattlesnakes the size of a person. Terrifying creatures have sometimes evolved to look cute and fluffy. The world is recognizable, but everything’s askew. It’s a terrifying world to imagine living in but cinematic and fascinating to read about.
Stranger opens with Ross, the titular stranger, running away from a bounty hunter. The hook totally caught me. The opening chapter establishes the harshness of the landscape really well and sets up how wonderful Las Anclas is. Once Los Angeles, Las Anclas is now sort of like an old western town with some steampunk flair and superpowers. Life in Las Anclas isn’t easy, but they’ve carved out fairly safe, happy lives for themselves. The community has a lot of predictable tension between norms (those unchanged) and the changed. Even so, they seem to be working through that and I found myself really rooting for this town, hoping that the narrow-minded people would see the light and embrace changed and norms alike.
Though I enjoyed basically everything about Stranger, my favorite aspect of the book is the diversity. There’s diversity and then there’s this book. It’s pretty much like I’m used to any urban environment being. There are people from so many different racial backgrounds and not a one of them is defined by their race. Even better, there are both gay and lesbian couples in Las Anclas, and they’re accepted without any judgment. I am so thrilled to read a futuristic novel where, though a lot of stuff is still shit, equality has been gaining ground. Also, the gay couple is basically the cutest thing ever. I ship it. AND, if that wasn’t enough, I swear that there’s possibly going to be a totally canon three-person-couple; I’m not entirely sure if I ship that, but it does have potential. Oh, also, women are in all sorts of respected positions in this town; sexism is pretty much gone too. I LOVE THIS BOOK.
Stranger is told in alternating third person perspectives. Ross, Mia and Jennie get the most focus, but a couple of other characters get points of view as well. I thought the rotating POVs were easy to track and all interesting. One of the aspects I didn’t like as much initially was Felicité, who is just the worst. However, it seems like Brown and Smith are planning to develop her from more than a bigoted bully, which would be fabulous; she could end up having an amazing character arc. It’s easy to love Mia or Jennie, but if they can make me love Felicité by the end, I’ll be impressed. My personal favorite is probably Yuki, mostly because I’m really hoping that “Prince Yuki” is a reference to my favorite manga, Fruits Basket. I also love Jennie’s POV for the realistic relationship struggles with which she’s dealing.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The world building is rather minimal with regards to how the world came to be as it is. For the most part, I was fine with that, since so much time had gone by from the cataclysm and records weren’t really kept. However, I did find the blaming of the backwardness of society on technology a bit frustrating. While it does make sense to have books hard to find because of the popularity of e-readers, I’m getting really tired of that being a plot point in every post-apocalyptic. There’s also a reference to people forgetting how to write by hand because of computers. These things could definitely happen, but they’ve shown up so often that I’m personally over it.
The Final Verdict:
Stranger was a wonderful surprise and has definitely restored some of my faith in the post-apocalyptic YA genre. I am so excited for the next book in the series, though I’ll have to settle in for a long wait.