This odd little book by Shane Jones is set in a small town where it is always February and flight is forbidden. It wasn’t always this way. The town once had a lively tradition of ballooning, and many of the residents remember that, most especially the bird-masked former balloonists known as the Solution. The members of the solution are plotting a war to confront February and bring it to an end. (February is both a never-ending month and the being who has caused it.)
The book focuses on a family — Thaddeus, Selah, and their daughter Bianca. Thaddeus teaches Bianca the ways of the past with surreptitious kite-flying outings, and he’s curious about the Solution, who are encouraging him to join the war effort for the sake of his daughter. The stakes go up when Bianca disappears, one of many children who has gone missing, presumably kidnapped by February.
The story gets weirder and weirder, with reversals and mistaken identities and shifting plots and changing loyalties. Most of the story is communicated in fragments, just images of what is happening, but very few explanations. This approach puts readers right into the situation, having to work out what’s going on moment to moment, without ever having complete information. Is, for example, it a good idea to listen to the children living underground? Are the children ghosts? Is the man on the edge of town really February, or just a builder as he claims? What is the girl who smells of honey really up to? I don’t know that it ever comes together, but the questions kept me reading.
One thing that struck me about the story, and the foggy mode of storytelling, is that it gives readers a sense of how it feels to be in the midst of something dire (a war, a disaster, a horrifying presidency) without knowing what’s going to happen next or the best way to get out of it. People’s commitment to the cause shift as circumstances change, and it’s not always clear who to trust. The book reads like a fairy tale, and, like a fairy tale, it gets at some universal fears about living in the world.