Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem. Review by Violet Kane

Book Cover

Lethem tells a peculiar coming-of-age tell against a hybrid science fiction and frontier background. Though not entirely to my taste, this novel is definitely worth a read.

The main character is Pella Marsh, a girl in her early teens with a more or less ordinary family. She lives with her parents and two brothers in New York on an environmentally-degraded version of Earth; here, a day at the beach requires a full-body protective suit. Her father had made a career in politics, but following a major election loss, he decides to move the family off-world to a newly-formed human settlement on the planet of the Arch-Builders. Before setting off to this new world, tragedy strikes, and the children's mother dies in a random accident. With heavy hearts, the family leaves for the Arch-Builders' planet where humans are struggling to negotiate their relationship to the friendly but non-humanoid Arch-Builder people. Most of the human colonists take a drug formulated to stop the planet's environment from having the same effects on them as on arch-builder physiology, but Pella's father decides instead that his children ought not to take the drug, arguing that if humans are truly to make this new planet a home, they shouldn't have to rely on drugs to live there.

This novel is certainly not formulaic. For the most part, the plot twists and character complications of this novel are neither clichéd nor expected. This is not your typical coming of age story. It gives SF readers a rare dose of austere reality—mixed in, of course, with a science fiction reality. And this one is both original and intriguing. The forward progression of the story definitely kept me intrigued. Overall, however, the characters and their conflicts lacked a certain luster that I look for in a truly excellent read. I think, perhaps, that the character conflicts were a bit too driven by the concept, rather than by their own power. Certainly, though, don't let my nitpicking stop you from giving this book a try. It's a rare and innovative story.


Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of ARWZ.com. She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and has a Master's degree in Medieval studies. For more on Vio, check out her ARWZ blog.