By Katy Goodwin-Bates
“Interesting” is something of a loaded word, isn’t it? It’s hard to describe anything, particularly a book as interesting without giving the impression that you mean something else entirely; “interesting” can be a euphemism for so many descriptions which one might feel too polite to apply to someone’s life’s work, which makes it rather tricky to know how to refer to a book that is actually, genuinely interesting. I’m going to do it anyway, however, because Aditi Khorana’s debut YA novel, Mirror in the Sky, definitely possesses this attribute.
It could have been the kind of story that came and went, eclipsed by another news cycle. But what my mother experienced as a transcendent moment of amazement at the idea of another world just like ours so, so far away turned out to be only the exterior of a package labeled, stamped, and sent to us with a kind of precision and foresight we might have expected from the cosmos had we been the sort to believe in things like symmetry and order. And yet its contents still remained a mystery.
Mirror in the Sky begins with an astonishing scientific discover: an Earth-like planet light-years away, which appears to have responded to a long-ago-sent communication. It’s an event which has unexpected and far-reaching consequences for the inhabitants of Earth, with the novel focusing specifically on 16-year-old Tara Krishnan, an outsider at a fancy Connecticut high school. As the news of Terra Nova breaks, Tara is dealing with more terrestrial, teenage problems; her best friend is moving to Argentina for a year, leaving Tara completely friendless for her junior year.
It’s not long before the awareness of a “mirror” planet and the potential consequences of this begin to affect Earth and its day-to-day life. Tara’s mother announces a desire to move to California for months to join the newly-founded Church of the New Earth, while a woman whose “double” was pictured in a communication from Terra Nova becomes an unwitting overnight celebrity. I really liked the parts of Mirror in the Sky which dealt with this hugely significant discovery and the ways in which it changed the characters’ behaviour; I’m not sure I was completely convinced that the emergence of intelligent, extraterrestrial life would have these effects, but I was intrigued by the idea. I’m not sure how feasible the science parts of Mirror in the Sky were, but I also don’t really care, because I never really understood science anyway; I’m perfectly happy to go along with even the most unrealistic astronomical premise for 300-odd pages.
Khorana’s juxtaposition of such sweeping, globally significant concepts with the day-to-day anxieties of teens is – here’s that word – interesting; it had the effect of grounding the more outlandish elements of the plot and framing all of it within a very human story. Tara is a highly intelligent character and Khorana has written the first person narrative in such a way that reflects this, which made the novel even more appealing to me; the style manages to elevate some of the more adolescent aspects of the story. After her best friend leaves for a year abroad, Tara is adopted by the popular clique at school, whose characters are certainly archetypal but enjoyable nonetheless; rather appropriately, I read the book while listening to the soundtrack for the musical of Heathers, which was confusing but somewhat illuminating when it came to the feminine politics of Tara’s new social group. In many ways, Mirror in the Sky is about conventional themes of fitting it; Tara’s father is Indian, and she often voices concern about the way in which her brown skin marginalises her.
In Connecticut, we were all alone, adrift in a sea of whiteness and wealth, and it really did feel like a sea I was drowning in. I felt as though I had to paddle as hard as I could, every day, just to survive. We were different here – it was obvious from the start. My father and I looked like no one else, for one, and on a near-regular basis, tension over money hung over us, a thickly, discomforting humidity, sticking to our skin, marking us with its heaviness.
At times, the teenage angst was a bit much for me, particularly as the novel contained so many more fascinating themes. There’s a romance plot which failed to convince me, with Tara frequently claiming to be in a love with a boy whose only memorable quality is how incredibly dull he was, and some of the developments in this relationship felt considerably less believable than the discovery of Earth’s mirror planet. It’s a shame, in a sense, because the romantic element is the least engaging part of Mirror in the Sky, but takes up more than its fair share of the page count.
There was much that I enjoyed about this novel; the sci-fi element was intriguing and Khorana has a narrative style which elevates Mirror in the Sky above YA fiction’s frequent inability to resist the colloquial horrors that many writers seem to think are representative of adolescent communication. It’s a quite intriguing melting pot of different genres and tropes, and one which certainly does enough to keep the reader engaged.