White Space, by Ilsa J Bick

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date  – February 11, 2014

Summary: In the tradition of Memento and Inception comes a thrilling and scary young adult novel about blurred reality where characters in a story find that a deadly and horrifying world exists in the space between the written lines.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it’s as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she’s real.

Then she writes “White Space,” a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, “White Space” turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she’s never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she’s dropped into the very story she thought she’d written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they–and Emma–may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.

Now what they must uncover is why they’ve been brought to this place–a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written–before someone pens their end.

Thoughts: Throughout reading this book, my brain went through three different stages. First it was lightly poached. Then it started to get a bit fried. Then at the end, it was thoroughly scrambled. White Space is one of those novels that I say without a doubt isn’t for everybody, because it’s confusing as anything and requires twisting your mind in about 5 different directions at once and spending the majority of the book not knowing half of what’s going on.

But because of this, it’s a book with amazing reread potential. Not just that, but I think it requires multiple reads to fully appreciate, because the story is beautifully complex, a multifaceted gem of storytelling. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, all of teens with abilities that they don’t quite understand and definitely don’t want to reveal, thrown together by painful circumstance and forced to solve the mystery of what brought them together and what keeps attacking and killing everyone around them, before they themselves are killed. Emma experiences strange blinks where she loses time and gets visions and memories of someone else’s very disturbing life, as well as getting glimpses of a famous author’s unfinished works. Rima can sense the whispers of the dead in things that were close to them. The gifts of the others, don’t become clear until much later on, so I won’t give any spoilers in that regard, but suffice to say that some of them aren’t quite what I expected. Everything is important, everything in its place, which is impressive for a novel that’s so steeped in utter chaos.

There’s some extremely disturbing imagery in White Space, more than I’ve come to expect in novels aimed at teens, and enough to make me feel pretty squeamish at times. From people being torn apart from the inside to just knowing that any character you may get attached to might not make it out of the story alive, it’s a book that evokes a lot of emotion in the reader, and it’s something that I think some may need a bit of a warning before they get fully into it. I may not have the weakest stomach, but there was some stuff in here to make me feel uncomfortable. The imagery was terrifyingly clear.

Which is one of those things that, as the book goes on and pieces of the overarching story get revealed, gives me pause in retrospect. Much of the story is about characters in books being real on another plane of existence, part of a separate multiverse that their creator/artist reaches into in order to bring out books, paintings, and so on. To tell stories. The best books get under your skin, are so real that the reader feels them deeply, sinks into them, and sees them as if they’re really there. So when a book that plays with that notion is just such a book, well, you may start to understand why my mind felt like a cooked egg by the end of it.

That notion also can appeal to just about any writer who’s had the experience of dealing with characters as though they’re real people. Characters don’t always want to do what they’re told. You want the plot to go one way, they want to do something else entirely. It’s practically a running gag amongst those who have fictional people inside their heads. Not only does White Space address the issue of popular works of fiction being part of a real multiverse, but it also looks at what might happen if a character was unfinished, without a set beginning, middle, and end to their story, and what happens then. What also happens when the author puts enough of themselves into a character; do they become part of the character, or does the character become a part of them? Honestly, at times I started to feel like Bick must have been present for one of might late-night conversations with friends in which we discussed these very issues, because so much of this book’s exploration of reality and multiverse theory matched closely with the general consensus we all reached at the time.

Which begs the question: is Ilsa J Bick writing my life and made me have those conversations and reach those conclusions?

This is what I mean when I say this book isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the kind of mind that enjoys those sorts of hypotheticals, and throwing a bunch of “what if” questions together all at the same time, then much of what makes this book so brilliant for me will be lost on you. It is, however, a fantastic YA horror novel with powerful imagery that challenges the notions of what teenagers can and cannot handle in their fiction, and for that alone I think this book deserves a greater amount of attention. I can’t wait to read the second book of the duology, due out in 2015, and at least this time I’ll know what a head-trip I’m getting myself into when I sit down with it.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

5 comments on “White Space, by Ilsa J Bick

    • Very welcome! It seems to be a book that didn’t make many waves, in part due to the fact that by the look of many reviews I’ve seen, much of the novel seemed to go over people’s heads. A shame, because if you can wrap your head around the twisty-turny kind of story, it;s freaking awesome!

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