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Reviews of The Other Valley by Scott Howard

The Other Valley

A Novel

by Scott Alexander Howard

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard X
The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard
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  • Published:
    Feb 2024, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Pei Chen
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About this Book

Book Summary

For fans of David Mitchell, Ruth Ozeki, and Kazuo Ishiguro, an elegant and exhilarating literary speculative novel about an isolated town neighbored by its own past and future, and a young girl who spots two elderly visitors from across the border: the grieving parents of the boy she loves.

Sixteen-year-old Odile is an awkward, quiet girl vying for a coveted seat on the Conseil. If she earns the position, she'll decide who may cross her town's heavily guarded borders. On the other side, it's the same valley, the same town. Except to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it's twenty years behind. The towns repeat in an endless sequence across the wilderness.

When Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn't supposed to see, she realizes that the parents of her friend Edme have been escorted across the border from the future, on a mourning tour, to view their son while he's still alive in Odile's present.

Edme—who is brilliant, funny, and the only person to truly see Odile—is about to die. Sworn to secrecy in order to preserve the timeline, Odile now becomes the Conseil's top candidate. Yet she finds herself drawing closer to the doomed boy, imperiling her entire future.

A breathlessly moving "unique take on the intersection of fate and free will" (Nikki Erlick, author of The Measure), The Other Valley is "a stellar debut, full of heartbreak and hope wrapped up in gorgeous prose" (Christina Dalcher, author of Vox).

Chapter 1

I used to stand alone by the cloakroom door. In the morning before school, and again when the lunch bell rang and the others ran out to the field, I walked to the same spot and rested my head on the sharp crags of stucco. An outcrop of shadow protected the wall from the autumn heat. With folded hands I stood in the shade, gazing at the backwoods and waiting out the day.

I took up my station at the rear of the school after Clare's parents moved downtown, leaving me friendless in the neighborhood. I sometimes ran into her at the store or on the boulevard, but as our mothers chatted, our scant talk revealed that our common ground had been only literal, the adjoining area between our yards. The new neighbors were old and seemed to wear housecoats all day. And so, at school, I became the girl by the door: Odile who stands by herself. Never spoken to and seldom spoken of. Staring at nothing with eyes like carved wood, as motionless as an effigy.

Before the bell called everyone in, I ...

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Reviews

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Scott Alexander Howard's debut novel is set in a lush alternate reality: a series of villages spread across valleys, each twenty years apart. The Conseil's sole job is to protect the status quo of time, weighing the benefit of providing grieving petitioners a moment of comfort with the risk of interference in the past or future that might change the direction of events for any of the villages, particularly their own. Odile is poised for a brilliant career with them when her friend Edme upends it all. The landscape of Howard's novel is predicated on a metaphor of dimensions, using the spatial dimension of geography as a stand-in for time. The Conseil decides who is physically allowed to leave and enter a different valley to mourn. Despite this, the book is not about geopolitics or grief and grieving, but rather, the impact of monumental decisions on the trajectory of one's life. It is a coming-of-age tale that stretches into adulthood and beyond...continued

Full Review Members Only (668 words)

(Reviewed by Pei Chen).

Media Reviews

Shelf Awareness
A lyrical, thought-provoking coming-of-age story that probes the question of self-determination...The premise is strikingly unusual and provocative; the climax, after a long, subtle build, is electrifying. With beautiful prose, a compelling protagonist, and serious fodder for thought, The Other Valley is a remarkable debut.

The Speculative Shelf
This is a quiet gem of a novel. Scott Alexander Howard takes a unique premise and executes it beautifully—never relying too heavily on his fantastical plot device to convey young Odile's heartfelt story.

Booklist (starred review)
Beautifully written...a triumph.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Stunning...Not only is this novel a quiet meditation on grief and love, but it also finds itself in conversation with larger philosophical debates such as the nature of mortality, fate versus free will, and how far a person will go—and what they're willing to risk—to spend more time with those they love. A thought-provoking exploration of ethics, power, love, and time travel that is perfect for fans of Ishiguro and McEwan.

Library Journal (starred review)
This gripping speculative novel will make for wonderful book club discussions.

Publishers Weekly
A moving tale of time travel and teen friendship…surprising and heartrending…this will leave readers with plenty to chew on.

Reader Reviews

Gloria M

Completely Original and Fascinating
Scott Alexander Howard clearly aims to capture a huge chunk of the reading population with his finely crafted debut, "The Other Valley." It is first and foremost literary fiction, a novel that takes and twists family drama in surprising ways, a ...   Read More
JoS

Free will versus Fate collide in this coming of age Fantasy
I got chills when reading this speculative fiction story about a town surrounded by its identical past and future and the towns people living out their lives while contemplating their free will vs their fate. The writing is beautiful but at times ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

No-Tech Time Travel Books

Exploring alternate realities through time travel is a familiar subject across fiction. Traditionally, the mechanism for making such a feat possible is the invention of a new technology: a time machine, a spaceship that can go faster than the speed of light, etc. Yet books built around these high-tech means often come with a mind-bending interpretation of physics that makes your head hurt. While H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is a classic tale, sometimes you're just in the mood for something different.

Luckily, heavy sci-fi works aren't the only stories that deal with the theme of traveling through and potentially changing the course of time. Scott Alexander Howard's The Other Valley brings time travel into the realm of physical ...

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