X in Flight, the first book in a planned trilogy from Karen Rivers, shifts between the perspectives of its central characters: Xenos (X for short); Cat, his edgy, rebellious girlfriend; and Ruby, a girl tormented by memories of the fire that killed her mother.
The novel begins with X telling his story in the first person, then moves to Cat’s viewpoint, told in third person, then Ruby’s, told in second person. So the novel goes, the viewpoints and voices rotating for 21 chapters. Each character’s isolation, each one’s unique psychological position, is emphasized by Rivers’ decision to tell the tale in three grammatically distinct formats.
“Xenos” is a complicated word in ancient Greek: it means foreigner, but can also suggest a friendly relationship or an enemy. X is just as complicated; he describes himself as “100 percent mulatto: part African-American … and part not.” The only black student in his school, he’s tall and awkward, an excellent golfer but without the mental focus to excel. He lives with his hippie mother and younger brother in a trailer. He’s uncertain about his relationship with Cat, but definitely feels removed from her, and thinks he may have fallen in love with Ruby. Then one day he realizes he can fly.
Rivers integrates this element of magic with ease and great naturalness: no explanation is offered (or needed) for the sudden appearance, and later disappearance, of X’s unlikely ability. His reflections on it are part of his attempt to come to terms with his identity, his desire to stand out, and his fear of being different.
This gritty, angst-ridden novel is dark, full of alcohol and anger, but its rather surprising conclusion offers a measure of hope. For two characters, at least, there’s the promise of communication and understanding, and for all, hope of new beginnings.