Cover Image: The Other Valley

The Other Valley

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3.75 Rounded up?
Listen I didn't know what I was getting myself into with this one.

I thought it was a dystopian because blurbs compared it to "Never Let Me Go" and "The Handmaid's Tale" but then I realized it is speculative fiction, which I suppose is fiction that is unreal, imaginative and from a time like ours but in a different place? Got it? Ha.

So in 'The Other Valley" we have a small town. On one side is the same town in the same valley but they are separated by 20 years. On the other side is the same town but 20 years ahead. One town 20 years in the past, the other 20 years in the future. I think this is a super imaginative concept and I enjoyed that. Maybe not super easy to get your head around but if you are like me, maybe you just don't think about it too hard, because then your head might explode.

Basically we look at a 16 year old girl who shows great promise in her career choice, a high up government official who makes decisions about who can cross what valley and for what reason. Her friend, her first sense at a chance of romance, dies, and she throws away her entire chance at the good position.
We see a tale as old as time play out, disappointed mother, bad career choice, disrespect from her male coworkers. But this book has more tricks up its sleeve.

Suspend your disbelief and see what happens when people start moving between valleys, nothing was ever as it seemed to me!
An interesting and imaginative, dark read.

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This book makes you think.

The premise is the valley they live in is the current time, but on each side you either go ahead or go back in time. There are strict rules about being able to enter the different time zones. Little 16-year-old Odile is working to become one of those that helps create a decide those rules, but what she sees be stopped us or keep her going, I guess you have to be to find out.

Written by a Canadian, I was very intrigued. The science fiction in time travel this book is also something that I really enjoyed. It gets you thinking and it's something that I've never read about before. The concept is so interesting that I really delve into itand thought about all the different ways that this story could go.

I couldn't imagine living in a world where you could travel to the future of the past and the ways to get there. Messing around with time and seeing how far some people will go to do this was a contact that I want to read more about. The biggest downside I found while reading this
book was that it was long and drawn-out and could have been done a bit earlier. For this reason I give this one a 3/5.

I do think that you should be reading this for you to test for yourself!

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This was fantastic and worth all the hype. I love time travel books, they lead to such terrific discussions and are the best books for book clubs. All the chatter around the moral dilemmas that come out of these tales are are one of the reasons why I read.

I loved this plot so much I told my grade 2/3 class about it only a few chapters in. Immediately I could see their wheels spinning and asked them which valley they would visit. Without hesitation hands went up and we heard about how they would visit long-gone grandparents among others. It was all I could do from crying. I plan to turn this into a future writing activity. Can't wait. The box of tissues will be at arm's reach when I read their writing.

I loved this so much I also picked up a physical copy for my permanent bookshelf at home. And I savoured it very slowly.

Thank you Simon & Schuster Canada, the author and NetGalley for an early peek.

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Sixteen-year old quiet Odile Ozanne lives with her single, not terribly happy mother, who works as an archivist for the Conseil. Odile is quiet, is quiet, intelligent, has no friends, and mostly left alone at school by classmates.

Their town is situated in a valley; twenty miles to the east and to the west is a duplicate of their town. This is repeated for each of the towns on either side as well. The critical difference between each town is that there is a twenty year difference between each. So, Odile and her town is the focus of this story, and East is twenty years in her future, and West is twenty years in her past. Travelling between the towns is complicated, difficult and rare, and mediated by the Conseil carefully determining the merits of each request to travel forwards or backwards in time, and violence meted out when people attempt to flout the Conseil's rules and determinations.

Everyone in town is used to the structure and restrictions of their lives in each town, each of which is bordered by a fence and patrolled by the armed guards. No one talks about the time differences between each town, or of travelling to East or West.

Time travel is carefully controlled in this world, with a small group, the Conseil, deciding if a person is allowed to travel with to East or West, which reinforces the idea that approval to travel is a big deal, and a weighty matter. At the same time, there is a curious silence, or unwillingness to engage, except in the most elliptical way, with the unusual relationship between each town and its duplicates in the neighbouring valleys.

One day when gazing out to East, Odile sees three people in the distance, all wearing hoods. She recognizes two as the parents of a classmate, Edme Piras, and realizes this means he is dead. She begins paying him more attention at school, and likes him. He’s kind, sees her humour and intelligence despite her shyness, and she begins developing feelings for him.

Odile’s mother is eager for Odile to apply for an apprenticeship with the Conseil, which involves a several-week long and difficult vetting process, which Odile does reluctantly.

To her surprise, she is accepted, and must, each week, analyze and determine whether the test cases they’re given should be approved for a visitation or travel to or from their town and West or East. Odile shows a tendency to make the hard decisions, and her instructor sees great promise in the girl, allowing Odile to see that her future at the Conseil is likely assured. The more she learns, the more she realizes the importance of keeping Edme's eventual fate from him, to preserve a timeline and her own future.

When Edme disappears, Odile comes apart and abandons the vetting process, changing her life's trajectory and her relationship with her mother, irrevocably.

Odile’s mother places all her hopes in Odile’s advancing their status by joining the Conseil. Author Scott Alexander Howard economically shows the strain and conditional relationship between mother and daughter, even before Odile begins the vetting process. The differences between them are only exacerbated by Odile’s choice to walk away from the opportunity to secure an exalted position in the town.

We pick up Odile's story twenty years later, where she is now a member of the gendarmerie as a border guard on the east side of town. She is seemingly content with her choice, but I sensed melancholy and a hopelessness in her. She patrols, and escorts the occasional person to East.

One snowy day, there’s an incursion very near her position, and Odile gets a hell of a shock when she sees a familiar face from high school. This moment is critical for Odile, and her twenty years of decent service are imperilled, as after this shock, she reconnects with Alain, Edme's closest friend, whose life has gone totally off the rails. We see two people who have been deeply damaged by the loss they each suffered in their teens, and how many of their decisions subsequently have been impaired or questionable since then.

Odile the adolescent is comfortable with the Conseil's decisions, and the outcomes of breaking their rules. But her adolescent efforts at understanding who she is, and who she cares about, draw her into an insupportable internal conflict with her duty to the Conseil. Years later, when she begins to really see the reality of the Conseil's decisions and their enforcement, it's a hard awakening. Odile must confront the choices she made out of pain and grief when sixteen, and decide what to do when she realizes where her current choices have led her, and whether she should attempt to rewrite her life.

This is a quiet, thoughtful story about the ethics of making certain choices and living with regret. It uses time travel to ask a series of questions: Should one visit one's future or one's past? Do the rules around these travels make sense? Is it acceptable to throw away one's current life if it were possible to fix or change a decision? What are the implications of making a trip, and how will this affect not just oneself, but others in one's life?

So, weighty, philosophical stuff, but handled with sensitivity by the author, and makes for a surprisingly tense and compelling novel.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC in exchange for my review.

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3.5/5 stars
Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the eARC.

"The Other Valley" follows sixteen-year-old Odile, who lives in a unique town bordered by its past and future, each twenty years apart. Her life intertwines with a friend facing imminent death, challenging her to confront the ethical dilemmas of time travel, fate, and the pursuit of altering life's course amidst love and loss.

Howard's debute novel is experimental and literary in nature, with vibes that are very akin to those of Emily St. John Mandel. It is not always the easiest for me to follow, but overall, I enjoyed the book.

My feelings are mixed largely due to my own difficulty following the story. I like Howards writing. The story is competent. The time travel mechanic is intriguing, and while it is not my favorite use of the mechanic, I feel it did a good job of defining the rules by which it worked. That is an important component of any good time travel narrative in my opinion, and I think that is why I am left generally positive, if a bit mid on the story.

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Odile is at the age where she must decide her future. She is in a competitive program for a sought after council position in her city. She is on track to make her mother proud and become a respected member of the town. One day she sees something that changes the course of her future.
This book provides a unique system of time travel. To the East of Odile's town lies an exact copy, but 20 years in the future. The same town to the West lies 20 years in the past. There are an infinite number of towns surrounded by a lake and mountains.
I truly enjoyed the world building and the unique time travel conundrums. The character building is believable and likable. I recommend this book.

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I really wanted to love this novel. It's a compelling story unlike any I have read before. Odile lives in a valley with a fenced border. Over the fence in one direction is the exact same valley with the exact same people as they were 20 years prior, and in the other direction they are living exactly 20 years in the future.
Individuals can petition the Conseil to secretly visit the past or the future, to see a loved one alive again after they've died in their own timeline, or to see a grandchild who will be born after their death, etc. But there absolutely must not be any interference or it will change the timeline for everyone, like the butterfly effect.
Odile is confronted with the conundrum of fate vs freewill. If what she's doing has technically already happened can she change her own outcome? Or is everything predestined?
This was a slow burn novel that had me gobbling it up by the end. However, I extremely dislike when there are no indicators for dialogue. It often changed back and forth numerous times between thought and speech within a single paragraph. It took 2/3 of the book to get used it as the patterned of speech changed depending on the individual.
If you can tolerate the lack of speech indicators, then I highly recommend it.

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In The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard, Odile lives in a valley with two identical valleys on either side: the one to the west is 20 years in the future, and to the east is 20 years in the past. 

Travel between the valleys is strictly controlled to avoid interference. Odile is working to become a member of the Conseil, the group that determines who can visit.

She unexpectedly learns that her best friend will die, which leads her to question what she believes about interference.

This was a quiet, melancholy speculative fiction novel that asks hard questions. It left me feeling pleasantly unsettled, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Thank you to Netgalley and Atria Books for my review copy of this book.

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I enjoyed this take on the time-travelling trope. The middle portion felt a little too long, but I see now it was necessary. I hear this book is being picked up for film/tv and I am looking forward to that adaptation.

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I'm going to be thinking about this one for a while.

In my spare time over the last few days, I've been an inhabitant of this (autocratic? oligarchic?) valley sandwiched between identical valleys either 20 years in the future or the past. This novel was philosophical, exploring ethical dilemmas with the highest stakes. But the story was also completely engrossing and so very compelling. At the end of each chapter, I needed to keep going.

The characters are incredibly complex. At times they are sympathetic. At others, they appear cold, uncaring, even monstrous. This is certainly true of our main character, Odile. During the book, she seesaws between modesty bordering on self-loathing and extreme ambition. Throughout, the author does an amazing job of keeping us on her side.

I think readers will adore Edme, Odile's friend and secret crush. In him, the author has crafted an unusually intelligent, funny, and kind 16-year-old boy. Simply charming.

Also, I really appreciate that while the book certainly depicts plenty of violence, the author avoids luridness, and often leaves the implications or possibilities up to the imagination of the reader (which I personally find much more effective, anyway).

I believe this novel could appeal to a wide range of readers for many different reasons. It kind of has something for everyone. I'll certainly be recommending it to my friends.

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This speculative literary fiction debut by a new Canadian author sounded so good. Any comparison to Station Eleven automatically has me sold plus I am a huge fan of narrator, Cindy Kay. However, even her excellent voice talents couldn't make me get into or interested in this overly long and slow-paced book. Sadly it was a miss for me. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early digital copy in exchange for my honest review!

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Time travel is one of my favourite tropes to explore and The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard is an intimate look at our influence of time when we are taught that events are already set in place.

The Other Valley is told from the perspective of Odile. In the first part of the book, she is sixteen years old. A lonely teenager who keeps to herself, an incident of bullying leads her to make some new friends. This age is pivotal in the town she lives in. It is when students decide the careers they will pursue for the rest of their lives.

The Fate of Odile
Odile’s mother wants her to be a conseil. She believes in Odile, though she isn’t the most emotionally available parent. The two aren’t close and continue to be in each other’s lives as an obligation.

The defining moment in Odile’s life is when she accidentally recognizes two visitors from the valley to the east, they are twenty years older than the people she knows. Based on her knowledge of visits related to bereavement, she concludes correctly that Edme would pass away in the coming months but what she fails to predict is the timing of the demise and this affects her deeply. In the time that they are close friends, she develops feelings for him and, later, when he is gone, there is a lingering disappointment of not using her time wisely.

Though she is brilliant and has been doing very well in the Conseil classes, she abandons that path and signs up to be a cadet with the border patrol, the worst job she could have chosen, the one people who can’t do better are expected to go into. Her relationship with her mother and others deteriorates and existence goes back to being lonely. She passes her time by carving in wood, thinking about her life.

It has been drilled into her through her education that outcomes should not be changed and any interference in one valley can have unprecedented effects on the other. As time passes and Odile grows older, she wonders about the night Edme was last seen and what she herself saw. When her circumstances deteriorate further in the sexist world of the gendarmerie, she decides to take matters into her own hands and try something different.

I liked Odile as the protagonist. At sixteen, she is faced with a tough reality and it is not surprising that she takes Edme’s death the way she does. The things that befall her are unfortunate and she does the best she can with her but underneath, she is always wondering what could have been different. I liked her journey from start to end.

The Operation of Time Travel
Time travel in The Other Valley is synonymous to crossing the border from one valley into another. There are professions built around this travel, those of the guards called gendarmerie, the people who look at appeals for travel, the Conseil and the perceptions around who ends up these two professions – those who have no better choice and those who are the best. In some ways, the cut throat competition of the town reminded me of the Indian education system. There is corporal punishment, there is berating, the teachers do not hide who they think are weak students and will not do well. In the case of those who fail the Conseil vetting process, there is a cap on the jobs that they can take, as is evident through Odile’s mother.

Interference has unpredictable consequences in all valleys and hence, its punishment is death. Conseils have to weigh each case in terms of risk, make sure that the visitors they allow from one valley into another will not lead to change in how life is supposed to play out. The visitors’ true identity cannot be known to anyone as this knowledge can be dangerous, as Odile comes to realize. Many precautions are taken around the timing of the visits, the attire of the visitors and how the visit went. Gendarmerie must eliminate any threat at the border and report how the visit went.

The system is fleshed out well and has a gravity to it. In the first part when Odile is preparing to be Conseil, the responsibility of the profession and the consequences of anything going wrong are drilled into her.

The Plot and Storytelling
The Other Valley is a literary exploration of time travel. It is about breaking free of the stories and narratives we have been told and taking action. The dejected manner in which Odile purses life is hard to read in the second and third parts. The content also portrays sexism, bullying and betrayal in friendships. But all of this is for a purpose.

It was an interesting thought exercise to put myself in Odile’s shoes when she is older and to think of her younger self as someone else entirely. To want more for her. I felt remnants of the multiverse theory in the story as Odile grappled with her choices in the past and the pivotal moment when she had the opportunity to choose differently but she didn’t know when she was young. The storytelling does a great job of bringing it all together at the end.

Overall, The Other Valley is a fascinating exploration of growing old and the choices that, if we could, we would make differently. It is not a comfortable read and that makes sense for the situation that it portrays. To know that someone will die and to be left behind, shaken by the fact that their time came too soon, can change the very course of life, time travel possible or not. This book beautifully integrates the challenges of time travel and influence through Odile’s story.

If you are looking for a book that will make you think, pick up this one. The discussion questions at the back are great to further explore the themes in this book. I might read it again in the future.

The Other Valley has joined the ranks of my must-read time travel books with The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Psychology of Time Travel.

Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book for an honest review.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the advanced reading copy of this book!

Wow, an utterly unique and imaginative premise. And the story unfolded so well. I will say this book is not for everyone, but the combination of literary prose and speculative elements really scratched an itch in my brain that I didn't know I had. It is very much a character and setting focused book, but it also had brilliant prose and a fascinating storyline. I savored the last of it because I didn't want it to end. I felt like I lived in the valley. Manipulating time is such a difficult concept to get right and I think Howard did a fantastic job. What a debut!

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This book takes place in the Valley, surrounded by other valleys - to the west is a valley that exists 20 years in your past. To the east, a valley that exists 20 years in your future. In the middle is your home, in your "present", with these valleys stretching out endlessly in each direction, further and further into your past and future. What happens in each valley affects the other, which leads this world to have strict policies and procedures to follow when it comes to visits between the valleys.

My favourite part of this novel was the world-building, and all the questions this type of world poses. What risks would you take to plan a visit to either valley? To see a loved one who's passed or who you won't get to see grow up? While the first half of the book sets up the rules, under a looming cloud of anticipation, the second half becomes an examination of grief. The way it unravels you, can change your entire future - and perhaps unravel your adherence to those rules.

Comparisions to Emily St. John Mandel are warranted here. This felt very much like one of her books, along with notes of things like "The Giver" and "Never Let Me Go". If you like emotional speculative fiction and can handle the lack of quotation marks (my only major grumble!), definitely add this one to your list.

Thank you NetGalley, Atria, and Simon and Schuster Canada for the arc in exchange for an honest review!

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Intricate, unique, and thought-provoking!

The Other Valley is a clever, absorbing tale that takes you into the life of Odile, a young girl who has her life turned upside down when she accidentally glimpses people visiting from the east who are living twenty years in the future, one of her close friends suddenly dies, she destroys her chances of becoming a member of the influential Conseil, and she must decide whether she will risk her life to go twenty years in the past and enter the duplicate valley to the west to alter the one tragedy that changed so many lives forever.

The prose is raw and expressive. The characters are vulnerable, conflicted, and inured. And the plot is a mysterious, immersive tale of life, love, loss, family, friendship, self-identity, power, security, control, duty, desperation, and magical realism.

Overall, The Other Valley is a gripping, pensive, speculative story by Howard that did a beautiful job of incorporating a creative storyline, what-if fiction, and an atmospheric setting into a compelling coming-of-age tale full of reflection, friendship, and first love.

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Speculative Fiction | Adult
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What an interesting premise – this is a town in a valley with a lake. To the west is the same valley, 20 years in the past; to the east, it’s 20 years in the future. It’s a repeating patterns, going back decades and going forward decades. Travel between the valleys is forbidden, except with permission of the Conseil (council), which as a rule grants visits only for grieving family members who wish to visit a lost loved one, or a future grandchild they will never see due to a pending death. That kind of thing. In this town lives 16-year-old Odile, in her final year of studies and about to embark on her apprenticeship. Encouraged by her mother, she applies for a highly competitive spot with the Conseil. Few applicants are successful, and Odile isn’t sure it’s the right fit, but her mother convinces her to apply. While waiting to hear, Odile spots two elderly visitors in the telltale masks – they are from the future, but when a mask slips, Odile is shocked to discover they are the parents of the boy she has feelings for, Edme. It can mean only one thing – his will be a premature death. Caught between her affection for Edme and the ethics of the role she is about to take on, Odile struggles to figure out what to do. I loved so much about this novel – written by a Canadian, it features a plethora of French names and words – chemin des Pins, Conseil, the Hôtel de Ville – giving it a wonderful sense of being a translation, set in a different world. It’s oddly timeless – there are trucks, but no cellphones or internet. It’s a melancholic novel – other than the odd teenager, no one seems joyful, more resigned than content. And while Part 1 feels very much like a coming of age novel, Part II jumps the story forward 20 years, without leaving this town’s timeline, giving a very adult and, as I said, resigned, perspective on where life has led. It reminds me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver – the role of the Conseil is to protect the community from the pitfalls of time travel, of course, but it’s also to keep them in check. Morality and ethics are on shifting sands – it really depends on whose perspective you are taking. An innovative debut from a Vancouver writer, it’s a bit of genre bender, essentially literary fiction featuring a speculative fiction device. It’s being published in a few days and is on order for the Grand Forks (B.C.) & District Public Library. Look for it on the new book shelf! My thanks to Atria Books for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for a free eARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this imaginative and thought-provoking debut novel by Scott Alexander Howard that poses some key philosophical questions through a propelling and introspective story, while not constantly throwing these questions in the reader's face.

The Other Valley imagines a series of identical valleys. Going in one direction, you would find yourself twenty years back in time, while the other direction takes you twenty years into the future. Life in the valleys, including the valley of the protagonist Odile, focuses on preventing an alteration in the "timeline" by irresponsible visitors. Conseilors (public officials) on both sides decide who can travel across the borders based on reasons and impact to the timeline through controlled visits.

The book is divided into two parts - one where Odile is a teenager and the second where the protagonist is her thirties. Saying anymore may spoil the book for others and I would highly recommend knowing no more than what I have summarized above before reading this great book. While you may question how time can operate in such a way where all that divides the valleys are probably just longitudes, I would suggest suspension of disbelief and to avoid questioning the science as this novel's strength is really the psychological insight and the existential questions it raises. With elements of a fantasy, a sprinkle of romance (not much really), and a character study, the novel is truly one of the most unique I've read recently.

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I started off by LOVING this one. The whole of Part 1 was gorgeous. I lost interest a bit in Part 2, (hence only 4 stars) but the ending was perfect. Thank you for the Advance copy of this one, I'll definitely be reading more from this author.

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Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Boy... the lack of quotation marks was a real miss for me. Sorry, but I just can't get behind this alleged "trend." What I read of this book was gorgeously written and melancholic, and I loved the premise, but I found it so confusing without punctuation. I enjoyed what I read, but ultimately this was a DNF for me.

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Odile is a sixteen year old girl who is vying for a coveted apprenticeship position on the Conseil. If she earns this position, she will be able to decide who crosses the isolated town’s heavily guarded borders to reach either the past or future. To the west, the town is 20 years behind; to the east, the town is 20 years ahead, each in a repeating sequence across time. One day, Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn’t supposed to see, leaving her with the knowledge that her friend Edme is about to die. Odile is sworn to secrecy to preserve the timeline, ensuring her position as a top candidate for the Conseil, yet she finds herself getting closer to Edme and imperiling her future in the process.

THE OTHER VALLEY has such an interesting premise with concept of an identical town repeated in sequence to the past and future in either direction. I thought that the author executed this plot point deftly and I was wholly fascinated by the idea of being able to travel from one time point to another with special permission from the governing bodies of each town, the Conseil. I loved the discussion surrounding the ethical and moral reasons that this permission to enter past or future was so heavily weighed - it gives excellent food for thought!

Odile is a fabulous character to tell this story. She’s a 16 year old girl who is trying to fit in and live up to the expectations of others, but she’s also very shy and isolated. It was interesting to see her life journey and how certain choices impacted her future/present self. I also enjoyed seeing her befriend and get close to Edme, Alain, Justine, and Jo.

Admittedly, it took me a while to get into this book as it’s a bit slow to develop but the last 20-25% of the book had me hooked, eager to know what was to come. The writing is lyrical and very descriptive. My one qualm while reading this story was the lack of quotation marks or any other punctuation to indicate dialogue amongst characters; I initially found this quite distracting.

<i>I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher, Atria Books, of this advanced digital copy for the opportunity to read this novel in exchange for an honest review! All opinions expressed are my own.</i>

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