Thursday, April 14, 2016

Borderline (Arcadia Project Trilogy #1) by Mishell Baker

Millie doesn't have much of her inheritance money left and with few prospects, life is a little bleak.  A year ago, Mille was a student at UCLA having made her directorial debut and things were great but now, after trying to commit suicide by jumping off a seven story building, Millie is a double amputee and is struggling to deal with her borderline personality disorder.

When Millie is offered a job with the Arcadia project, though she is skeptical, she jumps at the chance to get out of the hospital and possibly rebuild her life.  What she doesn't realise is that it's going to introduce her to world that she had no idea existed.  Hollywood has always been a magical please to many but what people don't realise is that the magic isn't an illusion, it just comes from a different world.

All artists are talented because they either have a muse or are warlocks.  The greatest films, books or paintings could not have been created without the help of a fae muse.  This puts a new spin on how the media works.  Having adopted the human customs of ranks, only those who are considered royalty are allowed to travel to earth.  This means that every step of creation whether mystical or human, there is a gatekeeper in place.

I must admit that I was attracted to Boderline because of the fact that the protagonist is disabled. Disability is often erased in urban fantasy and when it does appear, more often than not, the character is either a side character or disabled in name only.  I am happy to report this is very much not the case with Borderline.  Millie's BPD affects every facet of her life and she is often forced to come up with coping mechanisms to deal with everyday situations.
"One of the fun bits about BPD is a phenomenon shrinks like to call “splitting.” When under stress, Borderlines forget the existence of gray. Life is a beautiful miracle, or a cesspool of despair. The film you’re making is a Best Picture candidate, or it’s garbage. People are either saints, or they’re scheming to destroy you."
Due to the conditions of her residency, Millie is forced to do without her medications and deals with it by talking herself down from extreme situations and employing the tools that she learned in therapy. This doesn't mean that she can always control it, as evidenced when she beat Teo with her cane for rejecting her sexual advances but it does mean at times she actively puts her "rational brain" in control, aware that she is not perceiving the situation correctly.

Millie is also hyper aware of the way in which the world views her.
As wrong as it is, people in wheelchairs don't get treated normally by strangers. People see the chair first and wrestle with their discomfort, then their guilt over their discomfort.  Sometimes they cover for it with extra-friendly smiles; sometimes they look sympathetic; mostly they just avert their eyes for fear of being rude. 
Sometimes how the public views Millie, is enough for that to factor into which disability device she chooses to use on a particular day.  She wears makeup to cover her scars and tries to blend though she knows that there will always be something different about her now. As much as her disability makes her different from the able bodied population, it also grants her a great deal of protection when dealing with the fae.  Because so much of her body is made up of iron, it means that she cancels out fae magic, making her that much harder to kill.  I very much appreciate that Baker wrote the story this way, rather than falling prey to the supercrip trope which too often appears in media.  Daredevil anyone?

As much as she is clearly skilled at investigation, when things start to a little rocky for Millie, she learns that she will be released from the Arcadia Project without any consequences.  Part of the reason that the project chooses people with no ties and disabilities is because society is less likely to view their testimony as reliable. If Millie, with her history of mental illness, were to try to go to the media and let the world know about the fae and the roll they play in the world's artistic endeavors, she would be quickly dismissed.

I know I've said so many good things about Borderline thus, but wait, there's even more.  Baker did a really good job of not only including characters with various disabilities, Borderline is also very racially inclusive. Millie is very aware of her whiteness and the privilege and how easily it is to internalize racism.
"Billy's had a 'Help Wanted' sign in the window of the market since Lela got herself in trouble," my grandfather said.  In trouble meant single and pregnant, but I had no idea who Lela was. "how old are you now he asked?"
Bill'd be tickled to have you show up.  No one's come about the job so far but schoolkids and Negroes."
I stood there with the phone in my hand for a minute.  Hearing casual bigotry from my flesh and blood was like turning over a rock in my yard and finding a swarm of white larvae. I felt filthy; I wondered how badly those mind-maggots had been gnawing away at my own thought of Tjuan, Ellis and Inaya. 
Throughout most of the book, Millie is actively questioning whether her responses to a person are based in their race or who they actually are. When she determines that she has done something racist, Millie is quick to check herself.

If all of that aren't awesome enough, all of the people of colour in this book have a strong sense of their identity and aren't simply sidekicks or casual characters.
"Not really.  Learned my lesson after Amir.  But she was all right.  She and I were both pochos, so there was stuff I didn't have to explain."
"What's a pocho?"
He winced a little, then laughed. "You don't get to say that.  It means spoiled, overripe.  A term Mexicans have for people like me who are more american than Mexican. you know? They say it like it's a bad thing"
Teo has no problem reminding Millie that whiteness only seems invisible because how ubiquitous it is and that it does actually constitute a culture.

I wish I could gush forever about this book but unfortunately, the glow dims quite a bit when it comes to LGBT characters. Foxfeather is Inaya's Echo (read: muse) and though echo's aren't supposed to have a physical relationship with the humans they inspire, it's implied that they have been intimate. Foxfeather does proposition Millie for sex as well, so I'll assume that Foxfeather is a lesbian.  In terms if Inaya, she becomes so besotted by Foxfeather it's hard to really discern what her sexuality is given that Foxfeather is a magical being.  As entertaining as Foxfeather is, she's a side character at best and Inaya doesn't really fare much better. I hope in the second book in this series that these two characters get expanded.

Finally there's this:
But when Teo and I started hoofing it through the very gayest par tof West Hollywood late that afternoon, I discovered that even in Los Angeles it is possible to feel like a freak.
I think some of the more hostile stares were rooted in jealousy. Teo was a nice piece of ass, and the fading light suited him, making him look brooding and mysterious.
"Are you gay?" I asked him.
"I dunno," he said.
First off, Millie has known Teo for a hot minute at this point and has no business asking him about his sexuality.  It's beyond invasive. To be fair, no one walks around wondering if the person they are interacting with his straight because people assume heterosexuality. If that were not enough, when Teo and Millie question Foxfeather at the bar, his refusal to look at her cleavage  combined with his virginity and rejection of Millie's sexual advances,  is enough for Millie to decide that Teo is gay.

I really loved Borderline from start to finish.  The story was exciting and kept me guessing all along the way. I loved the symbiotic relationship fae and humans have when it comes to the production of art.  It's a unique take on the world.  Bakes descriptions were vivid and brought the story to life for me.

 I couldn't help but root for Millie and I loved the fact that even though she had her moments of weakness, she didn't give up.  I love that she is so self aware when it comes to race. Though Baker wrapped up the investigation without a cliffhanger, the ending was far from pat and extremely bittersweet. Do yourself a favor and read this book, I promise you won't be disappointed.