To start off, I’m not very certain whether this book falls solidly into one genre; I would definitely say it has elements of fantasy, but the way they’re treated turns it more into magical realism. The book is also difficult to quantify as YA as a large portion of it is also set in the college and adult lives of the main characters. The plot takes place in San Francisco, and mainly discusses the conflict between science and nature by having two characters with a severe dichotomy, each leaning in favour of one force over the other. Anders explores these concepts through the lens of friendship between the two, and how it comes under severe pressure when the characters’ main interests seem so irreconcilable.
An important thing to note about this book is the lack of structure. If you’re a reader who likes books to have a logical, understandable plot which revolves around either conflict, or reasoning, or emotion, maybe this isn’t the right book for you. Much of the writing style seems completely arbitrary, flitting between perspectives and events without fully explaining them, much as the mind of a young person would function. While this provides an interesting view for the reader and could be quite intriguing to analyse, it also has the potential to cause irritation and can turn people off from continuing the book. Most of the prose is similar to a stream of consciousness, where the characters seem to say the first thing that comes into their mind. This makes it a little difficult to grasp onto their personalities and get a true feeling of what they’re like, as the third person narrative is quite limited and doesn’t clearly provide an omniscient perspective.
A unique feature of the book is its characters; Patricia, a young girl who discovers herself to be a witch, and Laurence, a child prodigy who made a two-second time machine at an astoundingly young age and has been bullied for his interest in the sciences. What made this book interesting was how little time was spent discovering the different elements of Pat’s powers; it was if Anders was trying to draw attention away from the physical and into the emotional side of their friendship, which is exactly what the book is based around. Laurence and Pat go through friendship, distrust, betrayal, and reconciliation throughout the course of the book while world-shaping events and catastrophes happen around them, yet somehow Anders accomplishes a prose in which the reader remembers more of the characters than of their surroundings despite their macabre nature. The overall effect, while quite pleasant, is also disconcerting given the note the book ends on; rather than the physical conflict being resolved, the reader is shown the reformation of Pat and Laurence’s relationship with the promise given that they will face the disasters taking place on their planet together.
Overall, All the Birds in the Sky is an intense book, although this manifests itself differently than in other fantasy novels, given that the focus is the characters’ lives, not the threat they’re facing externally. This book creates a strong sense of nostalgia toward childhood friendships, especially ones that have drifted apart or ended bitterly. It makes for a good winter read with a hot drink and blankets, taking the reader on a whimsical, emotional journey through the lives of two children so different and yet, in essence, identical.