Details: (c) 2005 Susan Palwick; Pub Tor 2007; ISBN 0-765-34951-5
Verdict: The necessary beggar is absolutely endearing.
Reasons for reading it: papersky praised it, and I've generally found that papersky has exceptionally good taste.
How it came into my hands: Amazon book buying spree.
The necessary beggar is one of the most charming books I've read in a while. It's about a family of humanoid aliens marooned on our earth, which is something that used to be quite popular in YA books a few years ago, and I'm sure has been done lots of times before, but Palwick makes it seem fresh. It's not even slightly subtle about the fact that it's essentially a story about the refugee experience in a near future US, but it's a lot more than just polemic. The reason it works is because the alien planet that Zamatryna and her family originate from is very solidly drawn, with its own distinct culture, politics and even mythology. The two threads of the story, the past in Gandiffri leading up to the protagonists' exile, and their experiences as refugees in rural Nevada, intertwine very cleverly and create a satisfying whole.
The characterization is really lovely. I particularly appreciated the way that that characters who are often stereotypes, the over-earnest Evangelical preacher, and the redneck football player, the dissatisfied immigrant young men turning to drink and violence, are portrayed with a lot of sympathy and humanity. And the family themselves are really believable. Zamatryna is verging towards being a little too perfect, but generally a lot less bad than she could be.
Reading tNB made me feel warm and fuzzy. It manages to be genuinely sweet, without ever being sentimental. I loved the developing friendship between Timbor and Stan, and Lisa's Christianity, and the melodramatic but still almost believable love affair from Darotti's past. There's just an edge of political snark, but not a Message that overwhelms the book, and the issues are far more complicated than just, xenophobia is bad. I am not sure if the book is pitched at adults or teenagers; certainly I would have absolutely adored it as a young teenaged girl.
The only thing that disappointed me slightly is that the ending is too absolutely perfect and love conquers all. Love triumphing fits in with the general mode, it didn't come out of nowhere and you could see the development of the relationships. But love sorting out everything from interplanetary exile to the flaws in the US healthcare system is a bit much.