Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review of Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock

In a strange twist of fate, Starbird Murphy and the World Outside has almost the same cover as Reunion, which is the last book I read.* 

The difference is that Reunion cover has a row of houses on the bottom, and the Starbird Murphy cover does not. This totally works, because the character named Starbird doesn't live in a house. She lives in a yurt with her mother on a commune in rural Washington State.

Unlike the slew of copycat dystopian novels for teens that have flooded the marketplace, this novel focuses on a utopian community. The Free Family is an egalitarian (or is it?), environmentally friendly, self-sustaining community, with a leader named EARTH (in all caps, always) who is special because he gets messages from The Cosmos. Kids in the Family receive a Calling when they become teenagers. Sometimes these Callings have to do with leadership, and sometimes they have to do with service (read: crappy tasks).

The title character receives a Calling to work in the Free Family’s off-site café, which is one of the places where the Family generates income. So after a childhood of isolation, she becomes an urban high school student/waitress. Culture shock and transformation ensue. She has to figure out what’s important to her about The Family, and whether she really believes everything she has learned about the world through its lens.

This book is so engaging because it brings the reader into an unfamiliar world (unless, I suppose, you already have a background in utopian societies), while simultaneously addressing some universal coming-of-age themes (figuring out your own identity when you have strong cultural ties; learning to stand up for yourself even if those around you don’t agree, etc.). Like many of the books I enjoy, this is a family drama (with family secrets and betrayal). And while it is most definitely a YA title, I thought it had quite a bit of adult crossover appeal, too.

Since it is Nonfiction November, I thought I’d check around for books about utopian communities. This one looks interesting – I’m intrigued by the discussion of suburbanization and utopian thinking. Has anyone read it?

* You can read an article about redundant cover art here and here


Not Scott said...

If you do decide to read In Utopia, let me know. It's on my list.

jennifer said...

I just put it on hold at the library. Maybe we can read it together....