Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

Posted April 6, 2014 by Jessica in Jessica, Reviews, Science Fiction, Young Adult / 92 Comments

Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published on: April 8 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: NetGalley
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Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

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.

ARCReviewReview IconCoverliciousDystopiaFail

LOTS of dystopians flooding the YA market these days.

That doesn’t particularly bother me, but as is true when a market is flooded with anything, I’ve had to become more selective in deciding which dystopians to actually read. I needed to create a method of separating the wheat from the the chaff, the silver from the dross, the smart and fresh and original dystopians from the bored and stale and copycat dystopians.

It hasn’t been easy or even 100% accurate, but I have saved myself a multitude of tears and recriminations by following these three simple rules:

1. Avoid dystopians with direct and obvious comparisons to The Hunger Games.

2. If it’s part of a series, wait for book 2’s reviews before committing.

3. Dystopians featuring supernatural or SFF elements are typically safer choices (for me anyway) than straight-up dystopians or post-apocalyptic dystopians (I don’t have a survivalist bone in my body).

So when I heard speculation that Elizabeth Fama’s Plus One was loosely based on a retelling of George MacDonald’s The Day Boy and the Night Girl, I jumped on it. It’s no secret that I love fairy tales and retellings of fairy tales, and the fact that Plus One was potentially based on such an obscure fairy tale only further sold it b/c I like obscure.

BUT . . . as it turns out, some ideas don’t work very well for dystopians, so whether or not Plus One is based on a fairy tale or an entirely new endeavor becomes irrelevant b/c it just doesn’t make sense.

What doesn’t make sense?

Lots of things. The idea that people could feasibly be separated into two groups that were subjected to curfews based on whether they were “smudges” who were supposed to be active during night hours, or “rays” who were supposed to be active during day hours. And this was a totally arbitrary separation that was perpetuated by any new offspring being automatically assigned the same designation as the parents.

Not genetics. Not abilities.

Just because.

And yes, about 30% in you were given a reason for the original separation, and I guess I could sort of make sense of it, HOWEVER there was absolutely no legitimate reason to continue the policy after the situation resolved itself. Which it did around 80 years ago.

ALSO—by “night” hours and “day” hours I mean two, equal twelve-hour shifts. But according to the book smudges lived in darkness and rays lived in sunlight and never the twain shall meet . . .

Except days are longer in the summer, and nights are longer in the winter . . .

AND the equality of the original separation made it difficult to believe that over such a short period of time, the smudges became so persecuted by the rays. The wacky separation thing started as one whole, divided equally into halves. But less than 100 years later, one half of the population completely subjugated the other? When the subjugated half was, for nebulous reasons, more numerous?

Sorry. Don’t buy it.

And seriously . . . what was with all the baby-snatching? It was kind of silly.

BUT despite the holes in the world-building and traveshamockery of Soleil’s “plan,” there were immensely enjoyable parts to Plus One. Just b/c I knew immediately where Fama was going with the “desk buddies” part of the plot, doesn’t change the fact that it was lovely when Soleil and D’arcy finally figured it out. And as impulsive and adolescent as Soleil could be, I still found her to be both wildly entertaining and lovable. And D’arcy was just wonderful. The characters and their relationships were the clear strengths of this novel and they made this a somewhat enjoyable read all on their own.

It all felt kind of rushed though. With the seemingly unfixable holes in the world-building, I’m not sorry this was a standalone, but the ending was somewhat unresolved—the kind of ending where you’re left with all the possibilities, and it’s up to you to decide what happens after that last page. Sometimes that can feel hopeful, but Soleil was such a resolutely pessimistic character that it was hard to do that here. You know what you want to happen, but it seems highly unlikely that it will.

So if you’re the kind of reader who is more about connecting with the characters so that you feel something, and you like a slow-build before getting to the action, you’ll probably love Plus One. But if you’re a hardcore lover of pristine, noncontradictory worlds, I’d pass. As much as I loved Soleil and D’arcy, and a few other characters besides, I ultimately couldn’t get past my own lack of belief in their situations. But as I’ve said before, every reader is different, and my imagination isn’t what it used to be. You might have no trouble at all accepting the world of smudges and rays. If it sounds interesting to you, try it out and tell me what you think. Maybe if you’re convincing enough, I’ll believe in it too *wink*

Jessica Signature

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My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.


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92 responses to “Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

  1. Dystopian is really not my genre at all. So, not tempted in the least. And I want to add: I hate comparisons to other books, like Twilight or 50 shades or whatever. I puts me off completely.

    • Exactly. It’s hard enough to start a book without all kinds of preconceived notions of the ordinary variety. Start comparing it Big Deal books, and that’s not going to turn out well for anyone. PLUS the idea that someone wrote a new book that’s enough like another book—yuck. If I want The Hunger Games, I’ll read The Hunger Games. Not some pale imitation of The Hunger Games.

  2. So I know you left your link for Shadow and Bone, but I really don’t want to read that review because it’s still an unread book for me and I don’t want to know anything other than the names of some characters I’m unfortunately already unaware of 😀 So I hope you’ll forgive 😀 Ah, bugger! I’m sorry this idea didnät work for this book. haha, Nick told me about the baby-snatching and wtf was up with that indeed? I’m glad you enjoyed the characters though since it seems like if it wasn’t for them, you’d probably not have enjoyed this one at all. I’m sorry this wasn’t exactly your cup of tea. Great review, Jessica!

    • Siiri, darling, you can comment on anything you want, LOL. I’m just happy you take the time to drop by at all 😉 And yeah . . . this book was not my favorite. BUT I’m rereading Laini Taylor in prep for Tuesday’s releases, so things are looking up!

  3. That is a very confusing book, I’m still trying to figure out the plot! I do agree with this though:

    “but as is true when a market is flooded with anything, I’ve had to become more selective in deciding which dystopians to actually read.”

    I’m very selective with dystopians too, and most of the time I wait for the series to end before I even pick them upbunless they’ve been recommended or reviewed by bloggers and reviewers that I trust. So I don’t think this book will be for me either, I have a hard time trying to figure out the premise as it is 🙂

    • I wouldn’t stress about, LOL. Even if you did figure it out, it still wouldn’t make sense. GAH. And yes, I’ve gotten selective too, but even that doesn’t always work. Clearly 😉

  4. I need to follow your “wait until the reviews of the second book” rule. Because that would save me a lot of trouble, I think.

    I’ll have to pass on this one. The contradictions alone would make me want to throttle someone.

  5. I don’t read a lot of dystopians but no matter the genre the world building needs to be there and make sense for that particular book. By the sound of this one, I’m going to take your advice and give it a pass.

  6. I’m so on the fence about reading this one based on your review. I’m sure I will get around to it, you know so we can chat about it but it moved a few notches down on the TBR. As always, you write stunning reviews whether it’s a book you loved or one you felt was meh! ♥♥♥

  7. I’ve been super selective of dystopian lately too. I hadn’t heard much about this book and it wasn’t really on my radar, but I’m thinking it probably wouldn’t really work well for me either. 🙁

  8. So far this one is getting poor reviews. I had no desire to read it anyway, but I won’t pick it up because I don’t like shaky world buildling in my dystopians.

  9. Ooops! Thanks for heads up! Like Kimba, I also would have fallen for that cover, It wouldn’t be the first time my cover love turns out to be a lemon..LOL.
    I’m with you, things have to make sense to me, contradictions bring me back to this world, and I find it close to impossible to get my heart and mind back into it.

  10. I’m sorry it wasn’t as good as I initially thought. You’re right about distopia stories, we can find them more and more now and well it’s difficult to find some really good ones. I didn’t know this one I confess but it’s true that the synopsis was interesting. But well I think I’ll pass.

  11. Aww…sorry you didn’t like this one as much as you hoped you would Jessica! But that worldbuilding? Tsk-tsk. 🙁 Thanks for sharing though, and, as always, brilliant review!

  12. Christy

    At least you were able to finish it. I gave up at 47%. I just couldn’t take it anymore. lol

    • Yeah . . . I wish I could claim marvelous forbearance, but the truth is that I had just dnf-ed another arc, and I really try not to do that too often, LOL. It was more guilt than anything else . . .

  13. Wow that sounds like a lot of stuff happening that leads up to a book that isn’t that interesting. I do love character development though so I’m a little torn.

    Thanks for the great review though!

    • Thanks, Alexa! The character development is definitely the high point. And sometimes world-building can take a few wait, what?s and still work b/c it’s secondary to the plot, but in this one, it’s the ENTIRE foundation. Still, you’re forewarned, so maybe you’d be able to look past it 😉

  14. Sorry to hear this one didn’t work so well for you, but I have to echo the people who complimented the cover. It’s beautiful!!! Total cover whore here as well, won’t deny that my weakness for pretty ones have led me down the wrong path, but thankfully not often 😀

  15. Michele

    Love your three simple rules — I need to adapt those and save myself from disappointing future reads! I am so sorry this one didn’t work out for you — it really does sound confusing! Thank you for the honest review 🙂

  16. Umm, maybe they live on the equator? THen I think the days and nights are equal all year. Definitely grasping at straws here…

    I like your rules, but I know I could never follow #2. I’m terrible for starting a series and not getting around to finishing it. But new series are so shiny and pretty!

    I think I’m going to pass on this one.

  17. Glad the characters were highlights for you Jessica, even if some aspects of the world and the way things were setup didn’t quite make sense. I can overlook a lot of flaws if the characters are strong because they’re always the most important part for me, but the number of issues you had makes me think I would still struggle with this one at times. Thanks for such a thorough review!

    • I certainly did. Struggle, that is. Good characters cover a multitude of flaws for me too, but when the whole premise of a book doesn’t jive . . . I just sit there thinking, “this makes no sense” over and over, and an entire book of that . . . ungh.

  18. Oh no.. what a complicated book that has such a gorgeous cover 🙁 I really like the rules you set up for your own parameters of book selection! I also prefer to wait until book 2 is out to decide whether to give it a shot.

    Great post as always Jessica!!

    Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

  19. IT WAS A STANDALONE? Hey at least you won’t have to put up with the sequel then? 😛
    I actually decided not to read this one in the end no matter how pretty the cover. Also.. yeah. Night and day are not equally divided unless you live near the equator. And ugh plot holes .. Yeah no.
    I despise unresolved/openish endings mostly because.. I need closure of some sort but then again, I don’t like complete closure. I am weird. yeah.

    Lovely review as always, Jessica 😀

    • Yeah, but I’m pretty sure if there was another one coming, I’d have skipped it . . . maybe . . . okay, you’re SO right, LOL. Dodged a bullet!

      And thank you, my lovely 😉

  20. bookaholiccat  

    I agree with you, the dystopians are flooding the market. After The Hunger Games success publishers are trying to milk the genre as much as possible. It was the same case with Twilight and vampire books. The only problem is they publish everything written in the genre and don’t consider quality. For the same reasons you listen above I’m a bit reluctant to read dystopian book, especially from new and unknown authors.
    Thank you for the honest review.

    • So much that. Exactly. I rarely read dystopians anymore, but b/c of the retelling aspect of this one, in my own head, I thought of the dystopia as being kind of secondary. My bad, LOL.

  21. I think I can deal here. It’s funny… but there are usually so many things I can pick out of dystopian worlds, I really try not do think about it too much. LOL Still, if it is something I just can’t get past, it will ruin the experience for me. Still love that cover though. 🙂

  22. Pabkins  

    Not genetics….just because – ok so glad I decided not to pick this one up. I’m actually right there with you, those are excellent rules to go by. I’m more than a tad burnt out on dystopians and like you i prefer them with a fantasy element. Some post apoc ones are ok but really I’m just not that into them.

  23. Aw, sorry to hear that this one didn’t work out for you. I love the cover and the premise but you aren’t the only one that I have read that this one didn’t really hold up to what it could have been.

  24. Alise (Readers in Wonderland)

    Haha, love your “Fail” button! It is somewhat nice to see I’m not the only one who disliked this one 😉 We pretty much gave it the same rating! I had NO idea this was a retelling, no matter how loosely based. Makes it a little more sad that I didn’t enjoy it, ha. And yes, the holes in the world building. So frustrating!

  25. I loved monstrous beauty and I’m super exited for this one . Sad that you did not like it though, this does not lessen my enthusiasm for it . I’ve been avoiding dystopian no vela because I’m burned out and I’m only finishing series I’ve already started and still enjoy

    Btw thanks for the info on what it is based on . Tnx for your honest thoughts

    • Yeah, I’ve had Monstrous Beauty forever, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, and my dislike of this one hasn’t dampened my desire to eventually read the other at all. So I totally get that 😉 And NP, any time!

  26. I’m actually in the minority here because I most admit that I am in fact a fan of dystopians but i’m also really selective when it comes to deciding which series to continue with or even like. i like how this one is a standalone and that’s what first intriged me but now i know it’s just going to be a frustrating read and i don’t know if i should give it a shot.
    Thanks for the review!
    Lily @ Lilysbookblof

    • You’re welcome, Lily! And I like dystopians too! Red Rising is my favorite read of the year so far, it’s just that there are so many mediocre books being published right now, trying to cash in on the trend, you know? It’s made me much more picky about which ones I’ll actually read. Like you, it sounds 😉

  27. I feel like I don’t want to go for this one anymore…particularly with the whole dodgy baby snatching. I’ve read reviews where they’ve explained what happened and it sounds SO freakishly iffy to me it kind of annoys me. I’m like a childcare worker, soooo, yeah. If you’re going to snatch those bubs, do it REALISTICALLY please. *ahem* Great review!

    • Yeah, one convoluted baby-snatching plot is questionable enough, but TWO? Simultaneous? For the same baby? Each wholly independent of the other?! GAH. Realistic this is not . . .

  28. Faye M.  

    I’m a bit of the two – I want to be able to connect to them, to relate, to be in their shoes, but at the same time, I want a world that makes sense, especially if the genre is dystopian. I mean, what’s the sue of setting it that way if the world you weave is illogical, inconsistent, and just… bizarre? :/ I was initially excited for this one but now I’m extremely wary. I don’t want to be disappointed, and I like my world-building excellent.

    Faye at The Social Potato Reviews

    • Faye, LOL. Is it completely selfish of me to want you to read this purely for the inevitable status updates? Maybe . . . a little bit . . . okay, a LOT 😉 Obviously, it’s your call, but IMO you would be in a constant state of WTH?! Did I mention that it’s not until like the last third of the book that the warm fuzzies (character-wise) kick in? And especially after two big wins . . . I’ll be watching!

  29. Good to know I can cross this one off my list, Jessica! I find it harder to like dystopians these days because a lot of the ideas behind the disasters which made the society what it is in these books are pretty ridiculous. I actually can’t remember what was the last dystopian YA I read and liked…. Oh wait, maybe Phil Tucker’s The Human Revolt series was the last one.

    • I don’t think I’ve heard of that one, but I’ll be sure to check it out the next time I’m in the mood for a dystopian. B/c really—it’s not that I don’t like them b/c I do. It’s, like you said, SO hard to find one that isn’t ridiculous.

  30. Oh well. I’m sorry your separating the wheat from the chaff didn’t completely work for this one, Jessica, even with the obscure fairy tale reference. I agree, there are so many dystopian novels being released lately it really is very difficult to know which ones are good and which ones are just riding the hype train.
    I have been lucky with some, and not so lucky with others. I guess we can just continue to search for the hidden gems 🙂 Thanks for your great review of Plus One. I’m not sure I would buy it either, especially because of the actual hours of daylight and night-dark…

    I hope you’re having a fantastic week! Sorry I’m not around much these days, I have two more papers to write, then I’ll have a little bit more time for a couple of weeks before finals 🙂

  31. Jesssssica. You are among the few people I know who didn’t love this book, and I have to confess that I didn’t, either. I liked parts of it, mind you, but I also thought some of it was implausible, and it was hard to accept that the entire action-driven plot could hinge on the somewhat silly baby device. I mean, I GET it, but logically, in real life, I don’t see this happening, you know? It’s a lot to go through for just that.

    The desk thing was kinda cute, but yeah–telegraphed well in advance. I really loved MONSTROUS BEAUTY so I was surprised not to love this too, but hey. Maybe the next one. 🙂

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    • You know . . . the sole reason I requested this book was b/c of how spectacular I think Monstrous Beauty is going to be.

      I’ve had it almost since it came out, but for whatever reason I haven’t actually read it yet. So when I saw this one, I jumped on it, figuring that I already had the other, so it could wait for a bit longer—smaller window of opportunity here. And I’m still excited about Monstrous Beauty. Too many people that loved it, didn’t love this, for me to write it off. But maybe next time I won’t be so quick to jump on anything with Fama’s name attached to it . . .

  32. You know, somehow I totally didn’t even think about the logistics of the 12 hour day/night thing! haha, I just went with it. I think that helped me appreciate the book a bit more. I couldn’t get behind the baby snatching thing though. I really want/need to read Monstrous Beauty. I did really appreciate Fama’s writing style. Great review Jessica!

    • Thanks, Kristen! And I really want to read Monstrous Beauty too. It’s actually the reason that I requested an arc of this book, LOL. I’m pretty sure that my issues with Plus One were situational, so I still have high hopes for MB and future projects from Fama 😉