Books

The Nobody People (Bob Proehl) – Book Review

One of the things I see people talk about in book reviews is how cinematic a novel can be, how it feels like reading a grand movie; and sometimes people will say it’s like reading a season of a television series. The Nobody People isn’t like either of those. Instead, it’s like reading several seasons of a grand, sweeping television series; one that defies expectations and goes to places you’d never expect.

The Nobody People begins following Avi, a reporter who used to cover war zones around the world until he was caught in a bomb explosion and lost his leg. Now he’s trying to get back into writing whilst supporting his wife and daughter, still trying to get used to the changes in his life, and pining for the days of his past.

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When Avi gets a tip from a friend working in Homeland Security he begins to discover that two recent bombings might be connected, and soon discovers that these bizarre attacks, where matter itself seems to have been simply vanished from existence, were both performed by the same man. His investigation soon leads him to a group of people with amazing powers, called Resonants, and he learns that his own daughter is one of them.

On the surface The Nobody People jumped out at me as being quite like the X-Men comics; it is after all about people with amazing powers and abilities hiding in plain sight across the world, and a school where these people can go to learn to control their abilities. I have to admit that I was making these kinds of comparisons in my head when I first started reading the book, but it quickly became clear that whilst the two stories shared some surface level similarities they take very different approaches to the same topics. This isn’t about superheroes, costumed adventurers that go out into the wider world to battle villains. No, this is a story about real people and the prejudices that minorities face.

The book opens with the brutal lynching of an entire family, a  family who helped to save the lives of dozens of people, all because they were different from ‘normal’ people. This is a theme that flows through the entire narrative, whether it’s a family discovering their daughter has abilities, or radio personalities calling for internment camps and registration, or radicalised young people deciding to take matters into their own hands and shooting innocent people in the street. No matter how fantastical the narrative got I kept coming back to the same idea that this book is about being ‘other’ more than it is about fantastical powers and grand narratives that cover years.

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This is explored in the larger narrative, where we get to see the public reaction to Resonants and the calls for action to be taken against them, but we get some very personal insight into what it is to be one of these people through one of the main characters, Fahima Deeb, a queer Muslim American.

Through spending time with Fahima we see what she’s already had to live with, not because of being a Resonant, but through being Muslim in the US. She talks about seeing people turn against her family after 9/11, former friends shunning her and her family. She tells readers how government officials broke into her home and dragged family members away, simply for the suspicion that they could have been doing something wrong.

This gives a very real grounding to the events that happen in the book, and remind readers that whilst this might be fantastical, many of the things that happen to Resonants happen to people in real life. Families turn their back on their children because they reveal a part of themselves that was previously hidden, police treat you with mistrust and refuse to help you, pundits call for your rights to be taken away in the press, the notion of putting people like you in camps is discussed. All of this sounds awful and too impossible to be true, but it’s all real. You simply have to replace Resonants with another group and you’ll finds so many documented cases of it happening in real life.

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I think this was a large part of why this book spoke to me. In a time where people are taking to the streets to fight for their rights, their very lives, even during a dangerous global pandemic, you can’t escape the very real facts of oppression and othering that’s happening across the globe. People are denouncing the fight for racial equality, trans rights are being opposed at every turn, people claim all members of religious groups are going to kill you, queer people are branded as deviants. It’s all happening now, and it gives The Nobody People an added weight. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy read, but it makes it so much more relevant.

If you’re a part of a minority you’ll see a lot of yourself and the struggles that minority face in this book, and it might not be an easy read for you, but the book does manage to contain some hope, that there are some people out there that are fighting for the right thing, to make a better world. The book doesn’t give us a happy ending, as it’s the first part of a duology, but leaves readers waiting to see how society might resolve its issues of hate. Like in real life, I’m hopeful for a happy ending, but much like real life I’m not sure that’s possible for this narrative; either way, I’m eagerly waiting to see how it all ends.

The Nobody People is out now from Titan Books.

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