Book Review: The Book of Etta

31548533

Image: Goodreads

Rating: 5 out of 5

Last year I dubbed Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife as my favorite read of 2016, so it’s no surprise that I was super psyched to read its sequel. The second novel in The Road to Nowhere series takes place a century after the time of the original midwife, and it was a thrill to experience how this world has changed.

The book features Etta, who feels stifled by the glorification of women after the plague decimated most of the female population. In a dystopic world where women are scarce, the residents of the city called Nowhere have decided that the only roles worth valuing are mothers and midwives. After all, keeping the human race from going extinct is a top priority.

Etta prefers to contribute to society in a different way, by raiding nearby cities for much-needed supplies and saving women and children from sex slavery. This has always been a man’s job, but Etta has always felt more comfortable as Eddy, her identity on the road.

Initially, Etta considers Eddy as more of a means of survival, but as their journey merges, the gender binary fades away. Elison deftly portrays the struggle of a black trans man who has experienced sexual trauma and must balance his feminine and masculine natures within societies that define these natures differently.

It was so interesting to compare Eddy to the original midwife, because although their strengths are similar, they are derived from unique ideologies. Eddy has a great heart, but his rigid dichotomy of good vs. evil is often at odds in situations with plenty of grey area. These ethical dilemmas raise several thoughtful questions, like whether negotiating with sex slavers is a form of enablement or protection.

And if you’re like me who has little experience with trans literary characters (recommendations are welcome!), this novel is inclusive without being heavy-handed. In fact, it’s refreshing that Eddy himself does not have all the answers to gender identity and even has a poor knee-jerk reaction when a trans female love interest comes out to him. The reader’s mind widens as Eddy’s does, making him a wonderfully flawed, relatable protagonist.

I consider Meg Elison a good colleague and friend of mine, so I may be biased when I say that her novel has everything you could want in a post-apocalyptic tale: diverse, multi-dimensional characters, amazing world-building and a level of suspense that rises to an explosive climax.

When Eddy marches on Estiel (formerly St. Louis) to take on the Lion, the tyrannical leader of the sex slavers who keeps lions and tigers as pets, in order to save his loved ones, I couldn’t read fast enough. Those last 100 pages flew by, and I literally gasped at every twist and turn.

All in all, this is a phenomenal sequel that lives up to its predecessor, and I cannot wait for the next installment. I’m calling it now — get on this bandwagon immediately, because I imagine that The Road to Nowhere will lead to somewhere special.