Critique of Underground by Ada Redmond

Underground by Ada Redmond has been on my Jukepop bookshelf for a long time.  Having read it, I don’t know why I waited so long.  It is EXACTLY my thing.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  I have read up to chapter 20.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 2

UndergroundJukepop Synopsis:

As any well weathered traveller will tell you, it’s usually best to abide by the rules of the places you find yourself in. But when the first rule is that no one still alive should be there, abandoning all hope may be the least of your concerns.

When eleven year old Millie finds herself stepping through the dark and onto a strange looking train, there’s not an awful lot she can do. Without her parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings, Millie is left to ask strangers for help. But the other passengers are silent and sorrowful, looking anywhere but at her – and they won’t tell her the name of the next stop…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What was done well:

When I started reading, I was concerned that the main protagonist (whom the story centres on) was an eleven year old girl.  This is a prickly thing to do for a piece of work that isn’t aimed at children.  A young character must still behave like a child and not a miniature adult and yet you must somehow get your reader to feel a connection to them.  Do this wrong and the whole story falls flat.  Ada, however, subverted my concerns with ease.  Millie’s behaviour drifts between petulance and overwhelmed docility, and she often asks question after question as children her age are want to do.  I can’t help but feel a connection to the lost little girl just trying to make it home.  It affects me on two levels; first it makes me a remember a time when I got lost in a supermarket as a young child and how desolate and panicked I felt – how the few minutes felt like forever; It also strikes a chord with me as a mother and how I would feel if my little girl were lost.  Through believable behaviour and gentle character development, Ada gets the balance just right.

This isn’t the only balancing act Ada does well.  Let’s look at the descriptions.  These can be a nightmare for even the most skilled author.  You need to give enough information so the reader knows what characters and settings look like, but you don’t want pages and pages of information that dictate to the reader what they should imagine – there should always be room for them to envision it with their own personal flair.  Ada strikes the perfect balance, comparing things to something Millie has seen before or by using carefully constructed similes.

The other thing that is done quite well is the mystery.  Ada uses vague terms like ‘the ninth’ and what is going on is never fully explained.  Sure, we get hints here and there.  From what I gather, Millie has woken up and her parents have been murdered.  Somehow she has found herself in limbo/the afterlife/the underworld.  I’m not sure why, particularly since Aidan and Nathaniel make it very clear she is still alive.  It gives a sense of intrigue, pulling you further into the story to find out.

What Could’ve Been Better:

The only thing that could’ve been better is going to sound strange since it was listed above in what was done well.  However, it is featured here because towards the end it began to feel over done.  What I am referring to is the mystery and vagueness.  Initially the balance of this was perfect.  Once we meet Ava … things begin to go downhill.  It isn’t long before we are buried in countless shreds of information about a big war that happened, Aidan’s dark past, and it is hinted that Aidan, Nathaniel and Ava are angels (or some embodiment of this).  Before long, I became more confused than intrigued.  Don’t get me wrong – the mystery is still a great aspect of this story but there comes a time when you need to resolve some of the questions you raised earlier before you introduce more.

Overview:

Given that I only found one thing that could be better versus all the things that sparkled, you can see what an incredible story Underground is.  Overall it feels like a combination of The Divine Comedy and Spirited Away (my favourite book and movie respectively).  It puts an extraordinarily imaginative twist on the journey though the great beyond that I literally could not stop reading.  There were many parts that flowed like poetry, painting such monstrously fantastical settings by fusing archaic interpretations of the circles of hell with more creative, contemporary counterparts.

I highly recommend it!  If you haven’t managed to check out Underground by Ada Redmond yet – what are you waiting for?

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