A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

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A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Just like the original Sleeping Beauty, Rose is awoken with a kiss. But nothing after that is like the fairy story. For a start, no one else fell asleep when she did – instead they went through the Dark Times, when millions died. Rose has been in a stasis tube for 62 years; she doesn't fit in any more, everyone she once knew is gone, and a human-robot hybrid is trying to kill her.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-0575104723

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This is a book set in the future, with hover-cars and eye-scans and travel to other planets. But make no mistake – that's not what this book is about. Sixteen-year-old Rose has been asleep for far longer than she intended; in the meantime the world has almost come to an end in a terrible plague, and her stasis tube has been abandoned in a basement. If Brendan had not come exploring, she might never have been found at all. But how is that possible? How could the daughter and heiress of the most powerful couple in the galaxy have been forgotten? This book is about her awakening, and the slow, painful unfurling of the real facts of her early life.

'A Long, Long Sleep' is written primarily in the first person, and so we share with Rose every moment of her coming to terms with her new existence. She is confused and frail, her health ruined by her lengthy sojourn in the tube. Instead of the loving welcome she is used to after a spell in stasis, she finds herself in an unfamiliar world peopled by strangers, where she is seen as a freak, a burden and a threat. The foster parents chosen for her are at best indifferent, and the only real kindness she perceives comes from the boy who woke her. When, understandably, she falls heavily in love with him, she discovers he is not attracted to her at all, and is only helping her at school because his grandfather asked him to. Hardly surprising then, that she longs to return to the gentle euphoria of her tube.

The book is primarily about Rose, but the secondary characters have a depth and resonance of their own. Most intriguing in many ways is Otto, a highly intelligent creature made in a lab and eventually allowed to attend Rose's school. His anguish as he watches his brothers and sisters die, his tact and delicacy as he struggles to avoid using his psychic abilities to intrude into his friends' minds, and the complexity of his feelings towards Rose who, as the heiress to UniCorp, actually owns him, is a bittersweet commentary on the unbridled use of science. But Otto is portrayed as complex and three-dimensional, and his plight will resonate with any teenager who has felt misunderstood, or an outsider among their peers.

The book gives food for thought on many levels, and questions about this new era will remain in the reader's mind long after the book has been put back on the shelf. If Otto, her classmate, is not completely human, does that mean he is owned by the scientists who created him, like a pet, or has he the right to autonomy? Is a stasis tube a valid and acceptable way to deal with problems? And Rose's own experience raises questions too. Exactly how old is she? When did she go into stasis, and why? How is it that she failed so spectacularly in academic subjects at school before this last, protracted sleep? And how could her beloved Xavier, now lost in the mists of time, have been a small baby when she first knew him, but a young man older than her when they eventually fell in love?

Nonetheless, this is not a book of polemics, however fascinating the issues raised may be: it is a book about a girl going through a muddle of conflicting emotions, alienated, unwanted, and apparently nothing but a problem for everyone she meets. She is oddly passive, even submissive at times, which is surprising in the heiress to the biggest fortune on earth, and there are moments when you want to give her a good shake. But as you read through the book you slowly learn about the real Rose, trying, failing and trying again to cope with a tumult of new and truly frightening experiences. This is a love story, as sweet and romantic as the fairy tale it springs from, but not as you would normally understand the term: the boy she loves is several decades in the past, which to her seems a mere second ago. She is fragile, both emotionally and physically, but she has to confront so many things so quickly: school, friendship, the coldness of her foster parents, the loss of everything she held dear, and then the horror of a killing machine which tracks her down wherever she goes. Yes, this book is about life in the future, after a terrible apocalypse has ravaged the world.

Yes, it sounds like science fiction, with new gadgets and devices and ways of speaking. But the book isn't first and foremost about the future setting, however interesting that may be: Ms Sheehan drops in just enough details about this new and not-so-very-brave world to form a backdrop to the main action. What this book is about is only fully clear when the reader reaches the last page, and what remain after the story is done are the poignancy of loss and the slow beginning of hope as Rose comes to terms not only with her present life but with her past, and her own self. It isn't too strong a statement to suggest that it would be wise to have a box of tissues to hand for the final chapters.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: The 'Chaos Walking' trilogy by Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men) has the same powerful combination of future worlds and the intimacy of first love, albeit on a far broader canvas.

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Buy A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan at Amazon.com.


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