REVIEW:  Flutter by Gina Linko

REVIEW: Flutter by Gina Linko

Jia’s preface: The majority of this review is spoiler-free but I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the end of this novel because I know it’ll be a dealbreaker for many readers. I’ll put that discussion under a spoiler tag, however, so just don’t click it if you want to remain unspoiled.

Dear Ms. Linko,

I went into your debut novel with no expectations. In fact, I’d say I started reading it with only the barest inkling of what it was about — something to do with a girl who could time travel and her trying to unravel the mystery of her ability. Time travel isn’t my favorite SF trope but I was intrigued so I decided to give it a go. I don’t regret that decision for the most part, but I will say the ending left me feeling nonplussed.

flutterEmery Land has suffered from seizures for the majority of her life. Or rather, she suffers from episodes that look like seizures. In reality, they’re what she calls loops. During these events, Emery goes somewhere else. In other words, she believes she passes through a wormhole and can travel to either the future or past. She has no control over this ability, and even worse it’s killing her.

As a result, Emery no longer goes to school and spends most of her time in the hospital where she’s assigned a large team of doctors to look after her welfare. You’d think this would be a good thing. Alas, it’s not. The doctors, along with her father, dismiss her time travel theory and treat her more like a science experiment than a patient. Good bedside manner is not one of their strongpoints at all.

When Emery finally can take no more, she escapes from the hospital and travels to a small town named Esperanza. Esperanza was mentioned during one of her loops, and she believes it holds the key to explaining what’s happening to her. There, she meets a young man named Ash who is trying to atone for something he did in his past. But it turns out the two are connected in ways neither could anticipate.

I really felt for Emery. She just wanted a normal life. It’s bad enough having to spend most of your life in the hospital. That’s already a major crisis, especially for a teenager. It’s worse when your seizures are linked to something beyond the ordinary. Even if the doctors don’t believe that she time travels, they do believe it’s some sort of psychic ability. I admit I had a hard time with this in the beginning. They had problems believing in the possibility of time travel but clairvoyance and ESP is perfectly within the realms of normalcy? Really? This discrepancy does get explained towards the end of the novel, but it’s initially bizarre.

I also thought Emery’s relationship with her father was tragic. Instead of worrying about his daughter’s deteriorating condition, he intends to use the findings from her tests to propel himself to scientific fame. That’s cold and cruel. For the majority of the novel, there’s a glimmer of hope due to conversations Emery has with a man she believes to be her father in the future while she loops, but even those get squashed in the end. It’s a hard truth, and I mourned for Emery that she didn’t have any familial support at all. I know we criticize the lack of parental presence in YA novels constantly but this wasn’t like what we normally see. Emery’s father is present but rather than being absent or negligent, he’s actively working against her best interests.

The truth about the nature of Emery’s condition was cleverly masked. There are many red herrings that I didn’t start to realize the truth until the second half of the novel. The narrative is an excellent example of relying upon the reader to jump to the obvious conclusion. The little boy Emery encounters during her loops? Of course it’s Ash in the past! Who else could it be?

The story gripped me for most of the book and I couldn’t read fast enough. I wanted to learn more about the mystery of Emery’s loops and the images that she sees. The romance between Emery and Ash was believable and not forced. It didn’t take over the YA plot like in so many other stories but instead is intrinsic and organic to the plot. But in the final pages of the novel, I thought we started to go off the rails a bit. In some ways I do think the ending was inevitable. In other ways I thought it was a cop out and a letdown.

Readers who wish to remain unspoiled, stop reading now. I reveal the end of the book beneath the spoiler cut.

Spoiler (ending spoiler): Show

So we learn the truth about Emery’s condition and discover she is not, in fact, time traveling. But it’s not psychic phenomenon either. It’s something else entirely and her father and the doctors assigned to her case know all about it and are intentionally keeping it secret from her. The reveal was a little out there but I thought it was interesting and wanted to see where the narrative would take us from there. By the time it is explicitly revealed, there weren’t many pages left in the novel so I wanted to see how it’d all resolve.

What I didn’t expect was this:

Ash dies. And Emery follows him, finally succumbing to the fatal damage her seizures have wrought upon her body.

It’s a downer ending but one I think we, as readers, are meant to take as uplifting and comforting because Ash and Emery reunite in the afterlife. I definitely get the message that it’s trying to convey. That we may part with our loved ones in this world, but that we’ll meet them again in the next one. But if a person doesn’t believe in the idea of an afterlife and a heaven, I don’t know how they’d react to this ending. I’m generally ambivalent about the concept myself so I had no idea how to take this.

Even though the ending left me feeling a little unsettled, I did genuinely enjoy this novel. Emery’s emotional journey rang true, especially as she grappled with the idea of carpe diem. So because of that, I’m interested in seeing what you write next. As for a grade, I probably would have given this a B/B+ based on the first three-quarters of the novel but that ending brings it down to a B-.

My regards,
Jia

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