SFPNell Crane has always been an outsider. In a city devastated by an epidemic, where survivors are all missing parts—an arm, a leg, an eye—her father is the famed scientist who created the biomechanical limbs everyone now uses. But Nell is the only one whose mechanical piece is on the inside: her heart. Since the childhood operation, she has ticked. Like a clock, like a bomb. As her community rebuilds, everyone is expected to contribute to the society’s good . . . but how can Nell live up to her father’s revolutionary idea when she has none of her own?

Then she finds a mannequin hand while salvaging on the beach—the first boy’s hand she’s ever held—and inspiration strikes. Can Nell build her own companion in a world that fears advanced technology? The deeper she sinks into this plan, the more she learns about her city—and her father, who is hiding secret experiments of his own.

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
Titan Books Final Copy /  Paperback 403 Titan Books YA/Fantasy February 6th, 2018 (October 4th, 2016)

*Many thanks to Titan Books and author Sarah Maria Griffin for making this gorgeous paperback copy available for me. I love it! Although, struck by cover love and filled with gratitude, I will remain honest in my review.* 

Spare and Found Parts is about a girl with a clockwork heart in a post-technological Ireland feeling lonely and building herself a boy with, well, spare and found parts. Imaginative, intelligent and utterly captivating, this book swept me away and I was in love!

But not at first sight. Because love takes time and effort… You see, starting this book, I admit, it was a bit hard for me to get on board with the style of prose. There was one sentence in particular that I read about 5 times before I wrapped my head around it. BUT!! This is not the book’s fault or the writer’s fault. The fault was mine. Why? Because I have become so accustomed to reading books that hand me simple, easy sentences, nothing too complex, nothing too quirky. Thus, I became determined to understand, to visualise and to embrace the prose. I wanted to be immersed in all that this book was going to give me. I found my stride and I am so glad I did… and you know what? I am going to be bold and say, Sarah Maria Griffin is a true Irish writer! True to the nation’s wonderful characteristic artistry with words, music, attitudes. Spare and Found Parts is ‘poetry in motion’.

As the story unfolded bit by bit, I was sucked into this ‘different’ Dublin- The Pale (I found this particular distribution of the country into The Pale and The Pasture especially clever! Google it and find out for yourself…) – a multi-layered environment. In parts a well-oiled machine with a system in place following the ‘collapse’, in parts closed doors and undergrounds where something against the grain is ‘cooking away. The atmosphere of the place was equal parts mechanical, modern yet historical, wondrous and even magical.

I really enjoyed how elements of the story presented the opposite ends of themselves. For example- The Pale is recovering from an epidemic, and yet, there are still those futuristic aspects of wonder. The wonder of artificial limbs so good they move in sync with human bodies as if metal and wire was flesh and blood.

The great little fresh oases of nature peppered amongst the turmoil of human emotions- frogs who use the opportunity of a kitchen door left open to cover the floor, the elephant roaming in what once was a well-tended park. These small elements of life amongst the bleakness and ash covered not-life. Wondrous, indeed!

And the characters (of whom I will only mention a few)…

Nell, our main character, is complex indeed. I started the book by understanding her loneliness. The understanding slowly developed into dislike as her stubborn drive and obsession with creating herself a companion from inhuman parts made her drive away her real friends. The dislike turned into admiration as more about Nell’s life was revealed and how she dealt with cold, hard truths simply made me see her as a character of strength and fairness. A perfect imperfection.

Oliver, a young man persistent in trying to win Nell’s favour, didn’t strike me as the bad boy Nell wanted me to see him as. There was no need for her to treat Oliver so badly at all times and yet all it made me think of what I was once told- we tend to dislike the people who mirror our own shortcomings. Yet, Oliver tries, man, does he try to win Nell’s heart.

But Nell has a clockwork heart… and it’s ticking and making noise, and she doesn’t feel like she could ever be truly accepted or understood the way she is by another human. With the obligation to contribute to society, with high expectations looming over her as the daughter of one of the most important contributing men and wanting to hold a boy’s hand who can really understand what it means to be different, to be not all made of blood and flesh and cartilage, Nell will draw and gather the parts and build a boy! A thinking, talking, moving boy who is not a boy.

Io- Nell’s hard work, Nell’s companion and contribution to society. You can read this book and take Io at face value. He doesn’t exist until he does and when he does he has all this knowledge from the past, and music! And answers to everything. He dances and prepares meals and tend to illnesses.

Or, you can take and see Io as the boy who means more than just his kettle head and mannequin hand and wires and a computer for a core. Io, the walking and talking impossible. Io, the should not be! Io, the very embodiment of humanity’s collective innovation, bad decisions, failure and fear. A chance to face the mistakes made and a chance to do better. Io to me, delivered a very simple message- it is only humans who can create the things we can create; it is only humans who can make the choice whether to use a creation for good or bad; it is only humans who blame their creation for the bad human errors.

True, Io was only ready to appear in the story a bit later than some readers would perhaps like. But this is not meant to be a love story in between a girl and a weird looking robot. Who has time for puppy love and hormonal teenagers when there is a paradigm shift ready to tear a crack in society’s norms? Beautiful stuff! I believe Io made an appearance at the right moment,  giving me time to understand this world I was now experiencing and the rules within it, giving me time to get to know Nell and her friends and family,  giving me an opportunity to appreciate and enjoy Io’s ‘birth’ even more.

All of the character interactions, their still waters running deeper than appears at first glance, build up to a roaring crescendo as the book draws to a close. Through an explosion of emotions both good and bad, the revelations both wonderful and horrific, the story itself is like witnessing a major turning point in history. That first step towards a new dawn. A computer, considered blasphemy and evil, is powered up by the hands of a teenage girl, out of loneliness no less, and it sets in motion a whole row of dominoes falling.

I love this book… from cover to cover, everything in between and for everything that it made me stop and think about. It is more than the beauty outside, it has a lot to offer once you dig deeper.

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