Rosalinda “Rose” Fitzroy is awoken from a stasis chamber by a kiss. She has been asleep for 62 years, and everything she knows about the world has changed. As she tries to adjust to her new life in a world that has suffered a terrible period called the Dark Times, she struggles to reconcile her past with her present. Everyone she’s ever known is dead, and she must start anew. Rose’s new world holds dangers and challenges she might not be ready to face.
Providing a brief synopsis of Anna Sheehan’s strong debut novel doesn’t do it justice. Loosely based on the story of Sleeping Beauty, Sheehan’s soft-science-fiction novel requires a little time to really get going. Once it does, though, the book is an absolutely compelling look at a little girl lost in the future. Despite a few minor issues, this book is really, really good.
Much of the world-building in Sheehan’s novel is done through the characters, which works because her characters are so strong and well-written (more on this in a moment), but the science fiction aspects that are dealt with outside of the characters are done so with thoughtfulness and consideration. Sheehan’s exploration of both stasis and genetic engineering is where this is particularly clear. In addition to building the future world in which these characters live, Sheehan formulates some interesting questions about life, ownership, and the future of technology, and she doesn’t give easy answers.
But the book is strongest when considering its characters. Rose herself is a problematic narrator: at the beginning of the book, she comes across as a woe-is-me, poor little rich girl. Her personality is very bland, her manner quite passive, and it isn’t until later that the reader realizes that this is all intentional on the part of Sheehan. Rose’s personality is bland because of her history and because of how she’s been treated. Her personality flaws are called out by other people around her, and she is required to grow in order to make headway in the world. Because Rose’s situation and history are explained through flashbacks throughout the book, these revelations come slowly, and readers who stick it out will be rewarded.
In addition to Sheehan’s complex, layered protagonist, there are an array of well-developed male characters to be had as well. Xavier is remarkably well-drawn, his love story with Rose both believable and heart-breaking. Several reviews have pointed to a similarity between Rose and Xavier’s relationship being similar to the one in The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and I suppose it is, in some ways, only perhaps even more heartbreaking because Rose and Xavier have only one year where they are the same age.
The boy who awakens Rose, Bren, is also strongly characterized and provides a nice juxtaposition between what Rose had in her past life and what she wants in her present. Their relationship is not tidy and is in fact extremely complicated, which is a nice change from much of the YA offerings these days.
But perhaps the strongest and most surprising character to come out of the novel is Otto, the telepathic mute boy who was genetically engineered (just go with it, okay?) by Rose’s parents’ company. As Rose and Otto develop a friendship through their IM conversations (it sounds tedious but it works really well and provides some of the most compelling interaction the book has), Otto develops as a smart, compassionate character. The fact that he and Rose have palpable chemistry doesn’t hurt, either.
The book leaves open the possibility of a sequel but stands on its own as well. Once you get into it, you won’t be able to put it down. Trust me, this one is worth it.
A Long, Long Sleep hits bookshelves TODAY.
A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan. Candlewick: 2011. Electronic galley provided for review via NetGalley.