The Art of Saving the World

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One girl and her doppelgangers try to stop the end of the world in this YA sci-fi adventure.

When Hazel Stanczak was born, an interdimensional rift tore open near her family’s home, which prompted immediate government attention. They soon learned that if Hazel strayed too far, the rift would become volatile and fling things from other dimensions onto their front lawn — or it could swallow up their whole town. As a result, Hazel has never left her small Pennsylvania town, and the government agents garrisoned on her lawn make sure it stays that way. On her sixteenth birthday, though, the rift spins completely out of control. Hazel comes face-to-face with a surprise: a second Hazel. Then another. And another. Three other Hazels from three different dimensions!

Now, for the first time, Hazel has to step into the world to learn about her connection to the rift — and how to close it. But is Hazel — even more than one of her — really capable of saving the world?

SPOILER WARNING!!!

Corinne Duyvis (On the Edge of Gone) returns with “The Art of Saving the World”, a fascinating contemporary tale combining the sensibilities of a YA coming-of-age story, with a stimulating albeit jumbled fantasy/sci-fi thriller.

Hazel Stanczak isn’t exactly your typical American teenager, having lived her entire still young life inside a mile and a half radius in West Asherton, Pennsylvania. She’s only ever experienced what that relatively small “bubble” has to offer, which isn’t much.

The reason for that as stated in the summary is that she’s inexplicably connected to a mysterious “rift” that appeared the day she was born. The two seemed to be linked in a way nobody, including clandestine government agency MGA, can comprehend, and for a long time the “rift” was mostly benign.  That all changes on Hazel’s 16th birthday when the “rift” starts to have a freak out, acting not only unpredictably but extremely hostile as well.

So, things only get crazier from there as the “rift” begins to wreak havoc on greater Pennsylvania, sending through a plethora of oddities from other dimensions, including dragons, trolls, and Hazel doppelgangers. For a good portion of the book things don’t line-up, add-up, or make any sense, and you’ll struggle along with “Prime” Hazel as she tries to figure it all out, even with the help of the sagely “Neven”, who happens to be a dragon. It doesn’t get any clearer once the McGuffin shows up, but I’m not convinced that’s the story Corinne is trying to tell.

Amidst all the inter-dimensional jargon, dragons, trolls, and ubiquitous beings, it’s the relationships you’ll be drawn to in “The Art of Saving the World”. The interplay between the five “Hazels”, and even Neven, is at the heart of the book, and the story hinges on this concept of self-discovery through literal self-observation.

And while Corinne more than succeeds at that point, there’s no question the book is slightly frustrating in the sense that for its length (and it is long) you don’t really get any larger conceptual answers other than, “because”. Hazel (Prime) isn’t anymore the chosen one than you or me, not in the classical sci-fi sense, it’s more random than that. It’s more of a sick and twisted game of chance by some pervasive group of “The Powers That Be” who play with universe at their whim.

But whacky ending and muddled plotting aside, this is really more of a coming-of-age story dressed up in sci-fi sensibilities. And the YA fan in me who’s looking for less cataclysmic, more personal stories these days, was more than okay spending time with Hazel(s), as she/they come out of her shell.

Hazel (Prime) coming face-to-face with her own isms and foibles, actually put me through my own bout of self-reflection. I couldn’t help but wonder which quirks that I have would drive me to shame, embarrassment, or even worse, disappointment, should I see them from an outsider’s POV. Heavy stuff to be sure but worth exploring nonetheless, and I have Corinne to thank for that!

Additionally, I would have preferred Corinne spend more time dealing with the aftermath portion of the book, examining more of their individual trauma they suffered as a result. And the “closure nerd” in me would have loved to have seen Hazel (Prime) experience some of these new self-discoveries in real-time, you’ll want that for her in a bad way.

Ultimately how you feel about Hazel(s) will determine your enjoyment of this book, and any shortcomings the book may have can easily be forgiven. Corinne’s examination of representation, own voices, anxiety, and sexuality are the drivers of this story and in that sense, she has created a hero as worthy as any other.

And what you should take with you after reading "The Art of Saving the World", is that anyone can be the hero of their own story.

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