Brown, Rachel Manija, and Sherwood Smith. Stranger. New York: Viking, 2014.
Stranger is genre-crossing, told from five separate points of view, and written in collaboration by two writers, but there’s nothing rambling or uneven about it. In fact, the excellent writing and fascinating plot kept me turning pages and holding my breath.
In a post apocalyptic world, a mutation caused curious changes in the ecosystem, giving squirrels telekinetic abilities and creating crystalline trees that kill people with their shards. Some humans changed, too. In the town of Las Anclas, the sheriff has superhuman strength and the doctor can alter time to heal patients faster.
Without a government, people formed small towns similar to the Wild West. People take care of one another, work in community, and train to protect their town against threats. When a young prospector named Ross Juarez comes to Las Anclas, a mysterious book he carries and the bounty hunter on his trail ignite an upheaval for the town and its residents.
In Stranger, chapters alternate between five third person accounts: Jennie, the schoolteacher and a Ranger sworn to protect the town; Mia, a brilliant young mechanic; Yuki, a castaway who yearns to become a prospector; Felicité, the mayor’s daughter, who is keeping a secret; and Ross, the newcomer. Each character has a very distinct voice and way of thinking. They have different ambitions and fears and moral alignments. I enjoyed getting to know them all.
The thing that I liked most about Stranger was the abundance of diverse identities. The town of Las Anclas is very ethnically rich, with all ages of people included and respected, and with a multitude of sexualities. But rather than running down a diversity list and checking things off, the authors reveal diverse identities organically, through descriptions and dialog as they naturally come up. About halfway through the book, I suddenly realized that all of the main characters are nonwhite. Ethnicities are rarely explicitly named, but skin tones and hairstyles are mentioned and family foods are lovingly described.
Similarly, nobody is labeled “gay” or “straight,” but it’s quite obvious that several characters (including one of our protagonists) are queer. Nobody in the town seems to care or think it out of the ordinary that some of the women like women and men like men. Men and women are not divided into rigid gender roles, either. Several women (Jennie and the sheriff, for example), are respected for their skill in combat, and Mia is the best mechanic in town. And feelings are not the sole domain of women; there are several scenes with nurturing men and men being open with their emotions.
Stranger was on the 2015 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, was nominated for the Young Hoosier List, and received a starred review from Kirkus.