Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
So, let me be entirely honest. I really wanted to like this book more than I did, and at first, I really did. It seems to fit the current zeitgeist that’s seen the rebirth of classic tales in works like The Mere-Wife, Circe, and The Silence of the Girls (as well as my own WIP, hehe). I can’t say that Outrun the Wind ranks with other retellings and reimaginings (The Crystal Cave, anyone?) but it was a quick, fun read that represents diverse experiences and presents a light introduction to the concept of narrative adaptation and retelling of classic tales, especially for teen readers.
The book just didn’t delve deep enough into some really important issues that it brought up, making major parts of the story disappointing. I know it’s Tammi’s first novel, but think about it: Daphne du Maurier’s first novel was The Loving Spirit, Stephen King’s was Carrie; Toni Morrison published The Bluest Eye at the same time as Larry Niven’s Ringworld. I know I’ve just named four of the greatest writers of all time, and I also know none of their works (except maybe Carrie) can strictly be considered YA, like Tammi’s novel. But who remembers Ella Enchanted, The Hate U Give, Speak, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, The House on Mango Street, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ludo and the Star Horse? And the list of great complex, teen-focused YA goes on.
What I’m saying is, why be Bella when you (and your characters) could be Buffy?
Okay, I don’t have only negatives to say about this book. A blog post I read recently argues that both YA books and the YA community isolate teens, the audience they’re intended for, in fundamental ways. Outrun the Wind as a commodity will still isolate teens, it’s kind of hard not to based on some of the points the author of that article brings up, but in terms of character, I feel like this book does a pretty good job of representing teens and their experiences. And to be fair, the concept of an F/F romance set in ancient Greece is cool and different and feminist, which I always love.
The book tells the story of Atalanta, the beautiful hunter-raised wild-child renowned throughout Greece for her speed, and of Kahina, the Ethiopian-Greek Oracle-of-Delphi-turned-Huntress (after being rescued by Artemis’s crew). Atalanta incurs Artemis’s wrath after allegedly slaying the Calydonian boar, created by the goddess to wreak havoc upon the kingdom of Calydon for forgetting to honor her. Turns out it was Kahina who slew the boar on an impulse to save Atalanta. She doesn’t know why she did it, but she does know she’s equal parts terrified to tell Artemis the truth and pissed off at Atalanta for taking the credit (and her golden dagger). Well, since Artemis is omniscient and all, she finds out one of her own Huntresses killed her boar and banishes Kahina to Arkadia—which just happens to be ruled by Atalanta’s long-lost father, King Iasus. Arkadia is the pits: mushy grapes, barely enough fuel to light the torches at night, a tumbledown temple that everybody and their brother (or at least Kahina, Atalanta, and her brother Phelix) all want to ruin for their own reasons. Just as Kahina arrives in Arkadia, Iasus brings his abandoned daughter back to the palace in the hopes of marrying her off and saving Arkadia from itself. Kahina spends most of the book hating Atalanta, being her handmaiden, and teaching her how to use a fork while falling irrevocably in love with her. The girls then devise a footrace to prevent Atalanta’s marriage while bolstering Arkadia’s financial situation, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Except those guys who die throughout the book. They’re dead, and no one cares, because there’s very little character development beyond what we learn of Atalanta and Kahina. Fair enough, they’re the main characters and the only two points of view through which we see the world and story; however, there are so many other players in the story who didn’t get enough attention that they didn’t add anything to the plot or relationships. Atalanta and Kahina grow over the course of the narrative and the changes in their thoughts, beliefs, and worldviews are plain to see, adding to their roundness of character. Unfortunately, the other characters don’t have this chance, and as a result, their stories fall flat and their words and actions ring untrue to the reader.
I was happy to see the author taking parts of the myth and running with it, but again, I didn’t feel as if some of these plot points were fleshed out enough. Like the characters, they fell flat. For example, the idea that the Golden Apples were some sort of magical apparatus, almost like a hallucinogen, that distracted Atalanta (rather than a woman’s simple love of shiny things) was unique and engaging. However, I wanted to know more. What are those apples, really? Where did they come from? Who gave them to Hippomenes? What exactly do they do? A little more subtext and foreshadowing would’ve been appreciated there. As a writer I was waiting patiently for some connection to be drawn between the golden daggers and the golden apples but, to paraphrase and change the words of someone famous, “I love opportunities, I love to watch them fly by.”
Finally, it was refreshing to see an F/F love story set in ancient Greece. I feel like this “sapphic interpretation” of the Atalanta story is unique, exploring an aspect of ancient life that we typically associate with scholarly old white guys. I even saw a little bit of polygamy, I think, in there – did anyone else notice a potential love triangle forming among Kahina, Isidora, and Phelix before he bit the dust? Well, again, the characters weren’t developed enough and I feel like that created a disappointing romantic arc in this story. I was really hoping the book would have a deeper cultural and social insight on the relationship between Kahina and Atalanta, as witnessed through the eyes of the other characters (and the author does say she did lots of research so I was thinking she might have come across something in this regard); but as it is all we get are a couple of widened eyes. It was fun to follow the growing (or grown) love relationships in this story though, and I was really rooting for Kahina and Atalanta to get over themselves and just fall in love!
I’m just an amateur with Bob Ross dreams, but I do think that deeper, more extensive world-building would have helped these relationships, insights in tow, to blossom and develop in a more complex way. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the story was set in ancient Greece or modern-day Detroit, so the romance didn’t have as great an impact as it could have.
With all that said, this is a quick read and one that engages themes and identities that need greater engagement in genre fiction, particularly fantastical retellings of classic stories like this one. And the world needs more young writers writing YA. The world needs more writers writing about diverse experiences. I hope Tammi will delve deeper into what she started here in her next books.