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We have lived in this world for so long that we often forget to notice its beauties and terrors. Although a blossoming of flowers on a tree branch or the putrid smoke of factory pollution might be perfectly normal to us, there’s something incredibly special about them in different ways. In Born on the First of Two, Anya Geist crafts a otherworldly society that views the Earth with exactly this unique perspective, for this society lives above the clouds.

The Land of the Clouds is a bustling, ever-moving network of people above the clouds. Although Maya should be just another eleven-year-old living in the Land, there’s always been something amiss in her life. Perhaps it’s because her parents mysteriously disappeared when she was young. While Maya loves the aunt she lives with, she can’t help the tension between them as her curiosity about her real parents grows. When Maya’s history teacher unintentionally drops a clue about Maya’s identity, however, everything changes. 

Suddenly, Maya is convinced that she is the one in a prophecy destined to fight a group of evil people named the OCT. And it adds up—on the back of her locket, the ones her parents gave her, is a street name on Earth: 15 Harding Street. In her eyes, this can’t be a coincidence.

Now, Maya must embark on a journey to Earth to discover the importance of the elusive 15 Harding Street. Between “motion sickness” when she time-travels throughout Earth’s history to deadly voices preying on her, Maya is on a race against all odds to figure out who she and her parents really are—if the OCT don’t intercept her first.

Geist’s debut novel is a riveting blend of bildungsroman and familial love, highlighted by the science fiction elements! It was powerful getting to see not only Maya’s self-exploration and development, but how much her aunt and her best friend, Scarlett, loved her as well. Although Maya felt alone and small for much of her journey on Earth, there were two people trying to find her the entire time. Although this is a girl from the Land of the Clouds, I felt like I could resonate with her so deeply in this aspect.

Ah, Geist’s writing was simply delightful! The vivid description, especially of Maya’s time-traveling process, was a spelling series of events that truly allowed me to visualize the scene. It felt like I was there with Maya, seeing the gray, frothy beach and the Tunnel of Time right beside her.

I also loved the idea of people living above the clouds, operating in tight-knit communities and schools similar to ours, but in an entirely different environment. I was, however, hoping for more world-building. It was unclear what the citizens of the Land of the Clouds looked like, what they did every day, et cetera, so it was difficult for me to understand the difference between people on the Land and people on Earth. In turn, when Maya visited Earth and expressed awe in everything, it made me confused about what was so strange to her. The lack of concrete world-building caused a sort of disconnect between the reader and the character at times.

Overall, this was just a mind-blowing novel. Geist is such a promising writer who infuses heart and hope into her characters, no matter how dire their situations may be. Submerge yourself in this classic tale of soul-searching and internal courage—it won’t disappoint!

Born on the First of Two by Anya Geist, selected Editor's Choice of the Stone Soup Book Contest 2020. Children's Art Foundation, Incorporated, 2021. Buy the book at our store, Amazon, or Bookshop.org

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