Otherbound

Book review by
Karen Wirsing, Common Sense Media
Otherbound Book Poster Image
Boy sees life through eyes of servant girl in heavy tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Otherbound introduces readers to the diversity of cultures. Readers get a glimpse of caste systems, middle-class Mexican-American heritage, and LGBTQ culture.  

Positive Messages

Literacy provides freedom and power, and life is not black and white but rather a whole bunch of colors.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many of the supporting characters are hateful and greedy people who abuse their power. However, the main characters place the needs of others ahead of their own. They are thoughtful and brave and eventually learn to take control of their lives.

Violence

This book is chock-full of violence. Even though the story is based in a fantasy universe, the tone is eerily dark and reminiscent of real-world issues. A servant girl has her tongue cut out, and she's choked, drowned, and punched and has her face slammed into a porcelain bowl. One man is killed by having his face smashed into a concrete wall. 

Sex

A teenage couple has a consensual sexual relationship. Passionate kissing takes place between two girls.

Language

Many uses of the word "s--t," and "f--k" is used twice. 

Consumerism

Kids go to Walgreens to renew their prescriptions and drink generic Coke.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character takes prescription pills for epilepsy. Another character becomes increasingly violent when drinking alcohol. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Otherbound is chock-full of violence. Although the violence takes place in a fantasy realm called the Dunelands, it bears a striking resemblance to the ongoing issues in the Middle East. The main character Amara is a teenage servant whose earliest memory is of her tongue being cut out. Servant women from the Dunelands don't need their tongues because they're not meant to be heard. Amara is frequently beaten by her male captor, and at one point her nose is broken from being slammed into a porcelain bowl. One man is killed in a fistfight, and a magic curse causes the natural world to attack Amara if she attempts to escape. Teens engage in consensual sexual relationships, and two girls share a passionate kiss. LGBTQ themes are explored.

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What's the story?

In OTHERBOUND, teenage Nolan, who lives in Arizona, can see the world through the eyes of Amara, a voiceless servant girl from another realm who speaks an entirely different language. Since childhood, each time he closes his eyes, Nolan has been drawn into Amara’s life; however, most people who admit to hearing voices and seeing people who aren't there are diagnosed with schizophrenia. So, rather than tell his parents the truth, Nolan claims to have epileptic seizures to explain his spasms of unconsciousness when he spends hours in Amara’s world.

Amara spends every waking moment in servitude. From a young age she’s been told she carries the rare ability to heal the injured and so is held captive as the princess's personal healer. If the princess, trapped by a death curse, so much as scratches her knee, the walls come down around her, lightning bolts in her direction, and grass grows so fiercely it cuts her to pieces. Amara’s duty is to bear this pain until she magically heals herself. Amara doesn't see her freedom within reach until she witnesses something unexpected. Together, Nolan and Amara hold more power than they realize, but each must reach deep enough to free the other.

Is it any good?

Otherbound will require reflection long after the book is finished. Author Corinne Duyvis writes about self-identification through language, and the complexity and depth take time to absorb. Half the novel is written through the eyes of a boy trapped in a girl’s body, which introduces the reader to the transgendered mind, and the novel also explores the tender love between two girls.

Otherbound suggests that there are many truths and that truth may not be tangible. By book's end, the reader will be questioning everything -- and when it comes to understanding human nature, that's probably a good thing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss the importance of literacy. Is there a difference worldwide between male and female literacy?

  • Families can explore the idea of independence. What does independence mean to you?

  • Families also can talk about the depiction of violence in fantasy books. Is violence easier to handle with a fantastical backdrop?

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