First things first: Mishell Baker is a friend and she sent me the copy of Borderline I’m reviewing today. The book’s editor, Navah Wolfe, is also a friend. And if I hadn’t truly loved this book, I wouldn’t be writing a review–but I also can’t say that my friendship with these two women wasn’t an influencing factor either.
On to the review!
Borderline is Mishell Baker’s debut novel and what a debut it is: it’s fast-paced, funny, and just plain good.
Millie Roper has been living in a mental institution ever since she tried to commit suicide–the attempt which cost her both her legs and her career in film. When she’s approached by Caryl Vallo of the Arcadia Project for a job, she figures she doesn’t have anything to lose and goes along with it–even though it doesn’t seem to make much sense. She doesn’t have a lot of options, though, as her money is running out and she needs to do something.
The purpose of the Arcadia Project is to monitor the traffic to and from a parallel universe–fairyland, essentially. Residents of Arcadia are heavily involved in the film industry, often acting as muses to creators. This is a really fascinating concept and Baker does a much better job at explaining it than I can manage. This symbiotic relationship is the heart of the book and the foundation on which it rests.
In addition to being a double amputee, Millie also has borderline personality disorder and this shapes her interactions with everyone else in the book (note: Baker wrote an essay about BPD, I recommend reading it). Not only is Millie an unreliable narrator, she knows she’s an unreliable narrator–this layered perception is perfect for the story Baker is telling.
Millie’s disabilities are integral to her character and are utterly essential to the plot. Millie has a large number of steel pins and plates in her body which makes her interactions with the fey (I see what you did there, Baker) fraught: she can’t touch them or their artifacts without draining them of their power. But we also see how Millie’s disabilities shape her interactions with the world: her bedroom is on the second floor of a house, which she can manage with her prosthetics or her crutches but not her wheelchair.
And Millie isn’t the only character in this book with disabilities: everyone in the Arcadia project has one, including Millie’s supervisor, Caryl Vallo. Oh, Caryl. I loved her so very much–she’s a wonderfully complicated character and just oh, my heart. The relationship between her and Millie is layered and watching it develop through the book was one of my favorite things about it–this isn’t a romantic relationship, but a friendship. A tremendously complex, delicate, and reluctant friendship. It’s great.
So, in summary: this is one heck of a novel. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
She dabbles in writing speculative fiction and poetry, but non-fiction is her bread and butter. She’s known for her coverage of various issues within genre around sexism and harassment, and can be found on Twitter as @eilatan.
With Annalee Flower Horne, she is a co-founder of the intersectional geek blog, The Bias.