Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on April 8th, 2014
Shelve It: Goodreads
Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.
Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.
Moments of unrestrained beauty, interspersed amongst the thrill of life in hiding, Plus One kept me entertained from beginning to end. While some shaky worldbuilding and implausible plot points occasionally pulled me out from underneath its spell, Plus One managed to captivate me with its elegant prose and insatiable characterization.
The concept of Rays and Smudges was really fascinating, and while my skeptibrow was raised quite high during the explanation for the division of people, I set aside my initial concerns and just went with it because it was so different from anything I had read before. And while Plus One did much in the way of showing how this type of society could function, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was a division of class based on labour rather than race, I still felt like I needed more – more explanation, more exposure, more details – in order to find this alternate universe plausible. Considering how much being a Ray or being a Smudge played into the characterization, I was disappointed by how little we actually got to see of this division of classes.
I think I was most excited for Plus One’s plot though, after how convoluted and woven Fama’s Monstrous Beauty was. I disappointingly found the entire premise behind the plot to be quite flimsy, however. While I appreciated Sol’s intentions behind kidnapping her niece, I had a hard time taking her plan seriously. Everything that happened in order to make the kidnapping a success was too convenient, and I found myself being pulled out of the story because of its implausibility. Instead of marvelling over Sol’s ability to plan such an elaborate heist, I was baffled by how easily she was able to thwart everyone who, up until this point, had been so intent on holding her accountable for her self-inflicted workplace injury.
Fortunately, Plus One was written by Elizabeth Fama and I often found myself setting aside my small issues with the worldbuilding and implausibility of the plot in order to enjoy her simple, yet elegant prose.
Four hundred billion suns spiralling through space together. Our solar system just one grain on that galactic carousel. The carousel itself a speck in the cosmos. And her I am in this small clearing, on the surface of the earth, as transient and unnoticed to the universe as the dry blades of grass that are poking into my shirt. It’s too much t comprehend up there, too enormous, and I’m so small when it’s on top of me. It frightens me, like I’m being crushed.
Fama also had a way of showcasing Sol’s childhood spent in the dark, in a way that I found truly captivating. Experiencing something as normal as a picnic, but seeing it through the eyes of someone who has only ever done that at night, was like being shown the world for the first time; Plus One allowed me to experience the world with brand new eyes, and I loved it for it.
I also loved Sol. Spunky and reckless and impatient and wild, she was not the protagonist I was expecting. Flying by the seat of her pants, she made it feel like she never had the time to think through anything. But it was through her impulsiveness that she showed moments of such sincerity and love that I couldn’t help but be touched.
The thing is, when you’re with someone like Poppu – someone who sees straight through your battered facade and loves every bit of you, someone who makes you laugh until you pee your pants, someone who grabs you in a hug exactly when you need it – you don’t crave any kind of approval from strangers. You don’t need to “matter” in the world, because you already matter to the only person who counts.
A little crass, and completely outspoken, Sol might have felt like she didn’t quite fit her world, but I loved that about her. Her inability to see past her love for her grandfather was both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness: it made her selfish, at times, but it also emblazoned her to be bold.
Her romance with D’Arcy was something that came out of nowhere, but that somehow also felt inevitable.
He turned to look at me, sensing my pensiveness, and I allowed myself to smile at him. My real smile – the one I reserved for Poppu, and formerly, Ciel. D’Arcy startled almost imperceptibly, and then not only returned my smile, but went on to open his mouth wide and laugh that belly laugh of the night before. I was embarrassed at his unbridled pleasure, so I closed my lips into something more prim and shook my head, a little bewildered by how even a wordless interaction between us could carry so much meaning.
While I didn’t swoon over D’Arcy, I appreciated the lengths he went to to keep them both safe, even if I didn’t always understand his motivations. There was a part of me that felt like I couldn’t fully trust D’Arcy though, so I think that’s why I kept him at an arm’s length; I kept waiting for him to reveal that he was only helping Sol for his own personal gain.
Plus One’s ending was a little too drawn out for my tastes, and it took a couple twists that I found distracting to get there. It felt like Plus One was stretching to forge connections, in order to up the level of suspense, rather than allowing its readers to come to those same conclusions organically. There was a lot of misdirection and miscommunication, which again seemed to be included only to increase the level of suspense rather than because it was necessary, all which resulted in an ending that I should have been touched by, but that left me feeling rather ambivalent.
While I can’t ignore Plus One’s flimsy plot and shaky worldbuilding, it still contained moments that I truly loved, prose I couldn’t help but adore, and a magnetic protagonist who held me captive with her wild and reckless ways. So while not perfect, in many ways I can say that Plus One succeeded, at least for me.