Monday 21 May 2018

Post-apocalyptic novel is more than sum of its parts

Young Adult: Spare and Found Parts, Sarah Maria Griffin, Titan Publishing, paperback, 408 pages, €9.99

Spare and Found Parts
Spare and Found Parts

Tanya Sweeney

In terms of young adult fiction, Ireland has already punched impressively over its weight on the world stage. From Louise O'Neill to Eoin Colfer, Darren Shan to Derek Landy, a slew of iconic, universally adored characters and series have sprung from a small pool of talent. And with her YA debut, Sarah Maria Griffin appears on course to join their glittering ranks.

As a writer, Griffin isn't a newcomer. She has already appeared in anthologies from Winter Pages to Guts Magazine, and an essay collection about emigration, 'Not Lost', was published to acclaim in 2013. But Spare and Found Parts is brave, urgent and inventive; enough to earmark her as a YA heavyweight in the making.

Griffin's tale, with Penelope (Nell) Crane at its heart, is set in post-apocalyptic Dublin. Black Water City is a town getting back on its feet after a seismic epidemic, 'The Turn'. Computers have decimated the city and most of Ireland, and Black Water City, is a machine-free space. There are three rules: the sick in the Pale; the healed in the Pasture; contribute at all cost.

'The Turn', with its toxic electro-magnetic powers, has also left each of it surviving citizens without one body part. It could be a hand, a jaw, a finger, an ear or a leg - Nell's feisty friend Ruby wears a pirate's eye-patch. In Nell's case, she has been left without a heart, and so looks, for all intents and purposes, like a person still intact on the outside. Instead, she hears a metronomic ticking from inside her own chest. Nell's father Julian is the doctor responsible for creating the limbs and body parts that everyone is now using. All the while, the sceptre of the 'contribute at all cost' rule hangs heavy.

And for Nell in particular, the legacy of her revolutiownary parents is hard to escape. However, she decides to build herself a pal, IO, from forbidden computer parts. And in a world where computer parts caused the epidemic that nearly destroyed the country, who is to say that her companionable creation won't wreak similar havoc this time around?

Griffin's Black Water City topography is so vividly evoked, its air of tension and despair so clear, that it carries the reader through much of the book. IO, too, although a latecomer to the story, is a game-changing addition.

Griffin has a keen nose not just for the prescient but for the poetic, and her evocative prose makes Spare & Found Parts a sci-fi book with a keen literary bent. Young readers will easily relate to Nell's feelings of inadequacy, her determination to find (or build) a kindred and understanding soul, and her myriad insecurities.

But there's also much to like in this intelligent, sharp read for adult readers. The final chapter - abrupt, hectic and unexpected - is, however, sure to divide opinion.

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