Review: Illuminae

Review: IlluminaeIlluminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20th 2015
Genres: Futuristic, Young Adult
Pages: 599

Observations on a Unique Young Adult Futuristic/Sci-Fi/Romance Book


I don’t read many physical books anymore preferring the convenience and instant gratification associated with ebooks (plus I don’t have to find a way to store all those books).  ILLUMINAE cries out to be read in its physical form, however.

Consisting of texts and emails, official reports, observations and recorded dialogue, ILLUMINAE tells the story of Kady Grant, a teenager who lives on tiny planet in the year 2575.  On the day where the worst thing that should be happening is that Kady breaks up with her boyfriend of a year Ezra Mason, her planet is savagely attacked.  Kady and Ezra end up fleeing the planet with other refugees and end up a part of small group of space craft fleeing for their lives.  Tracing the story of what happened and what is happening and the complicated relationship between Kady and Ezra.

The odd format where the story is not told in a linear fashion will not be every reader’s cup of tea. The disjointed nature of the narrative demands that readers engage intellectually with the material rather than just sliding into the story’s narrative.  As is true when relying only on written documents, there remains much that is hidden from the reader as the narrative is constrained by documents themselves which allows much to be hidden from readers.  That literary device works beautifully allowing the story to build to an exciting and surprising conclusion. This is not a book to read the ending of too soon because the puzzle of the book is part of its appeal.

The first half of ILLUMINAE is an intellectual struggle — not because the book is poorly written (it is not) but because this book demands active reading and puzzling from its reader.  Once a base of knowledge is achieved, however, the pages of the book begin to quickly slide by.  I am a big fan of disjointed narrative books.  Whether it be Faulkner or Morrison or the postcards and letters of the Griffin & Sabine books by Nick Bantock, I enjoy the intellectual and then emotional connection that these books bring.  That being said, these books are not for everyone.  If you enjoy reading primary documents, historical letters or just want a mental challenge, give this book a chance.

What especially appealed to me was that while I began this book as an observer, the format eventually became one where the characters felt more real, less filtered.  When the characters face pain and desperation, I felt it keenly.  What began as an intellectual challenge became a deeply emotional connection with the characters.  Even the romance worked for me although it is non-traditional.

Why, you might ask, don’t I speak more about the plot?  I feel that the more a reader knows about the story going in, the less enjoyable this book will be.  The book’s format and how the narrative unwinds is an essential part of building the emotional conclusion to this book.

When I finished this book, I immediately began flipping back through the pages discovering what I had missed in the narrative. The secrets that are revealed are so neatly woven into the documents provided that this book almost feels like a good murder mystery. Only on reflection and review do the clues become obvious.

ILLUMINAE is the first of a trilogy of books which tell three different stories about the same event.  The next book will focus on other characters.