Duyvis’ Otherbound is a tour-de-force in complications. The story is told through dual narrators, Nolan and Amara. Nolan, a bilingual Hispanic teenager growing up in small town Arizona, has a crippling neurological disorder, masked as epilepsy. This disorder has already cost him one foot and incurred massive medical debt for his working class family. In the past, Nolan’s disorder even caused hallucinations whenever he blinked. He is constantly aware of the burden he unintentionally places on his family and struggles to connect with those around him, his disabilities impairing him both physically and mentally. Nolan is also doing his best to hide a secret: the hallucinations never stopped. Every time Nolan closes his eyes his mind is transported into the body of our second protagonist, Amara.
Amara, a slave girl from the Dunelands, has her hands full as well. Made a slave at a young age, Amara has spent her life learning to put others first, to serve. As is the custom, her tongue was removed so she can only speak through sign language. Her sole purpose in life is to protect Cilla, a cursed ostracized princess, from physical harm. The curse entails the Earth attempting to destroy Cilla whenever her blood is spilled. The only counter-defense against the curse is for Amara to divert the curse onto herself. Her healing abilities, a gift from the spirits, allow her to survive the brutal attacks, but not escape the excruciating pain. Amara and her small group are also constantly on the run from mages attempting to kill Cilla. On top of the life-threatening situations, Amara struggles internally with the physical desire she feels for Cilla, only further complicated by her romantic relationship with Maart, the other male slave in their group.
Both narrators deal with extreme isolation issues due to their social class and physical differences. Amara cannot hide her slave status due to her physical appearance and need to use sign language to communicate. Because she is always on the move, she can form no relationships outside those in her small group, half of whom are considered to be her betters. Children his own age rarely speak to Nolan for fear he’ll begin seizing and adults are always wary around him for the same reason. While he loves his family, he knows they won’t believe his visions of the Dunelands are real and so attempts to hide them at all costs.
The author deals with Nolan’s race as something that is present, but does not impact story. It’s never specifically stated, but it appears he is either first or second generation Mexican-American. His parents both work and speak English well, but at home they predominately speak Spanish with each other and their children. However, Nolan and his little sister primarily speak English with each other. His prosthetic foot hinders him from participating in sports since his family cannot afford an athletic model. The loss of his foot doesn’t seem to bother him as much as his mental instability. Not being able to focus in school or interact with people for prolonged periods of time causes Nolan to become easily depressed. However, his greatest burden is the guilt he carries for the inconveniences his disabilities cause his family. The cost of his medicine is always at the forefront of his mind. Money is tight as demonstrated by his family buying off-brand groceries and eating leftovers on a regular basis. Because he sees himself as such a burden, Nolan tries to be a good, polite son for his parents, putting others before himself whenever he can.
Amara’s inability to speak verbally singles her out as a slave and while those chosen to be slaves in this society are only required to do so for a set number of years, she notes even freed slaves are treated with little to no respect and while her slave tattoo can be removed, her tongue can never re-grow itself. Amara and Cilla’s desire for one another is never addressed as out of the ordinary or inappropriate beyond their socio-economic differences, but there isn’t another example of a homosexual relationship overtly addressed in the book either. While Cilla’s affections are genuine, Amara finds herself trying to explain that because she is Cilla’s slave, she cannot be with her willingly. Amara also struggles with deciding what she wants. Since she’s never had the freedom to make her own decisions before, the entire idea is foreign to her.
Amara and Nolan both struggle with feeling trapped in their particularly unfortunate circumstances and while they don’t know what they would do with their freedom, they both covet it desperately. It’s a little difficult to get your bearings for the first few chapters, but the author does a good job of making the plot details as easy to follow as possible. When Nolan and Amara finally become aware of one another, the plot of the novel really picks up and maintains a fast pace until the end. Duyvis should be commended for weaving so many elements together gracefully.
Recommendation: I would recommend the book for ages 12-15 because sex and death are both present, though neither in a graphic way.
Reviewer: Cetoria Tomberlin