Book Review

Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Genre | Fantasy Horror
Page #s | 298
Publishing Date | August 2022

Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

Goodreads

I had a hard time getting into Book Eaters for the first hundred pages until the alternating time lines began to dramatically affect each other; then I couldn’t put it down! Set in a world where otherworldly Families made of book eaters (yup, literally creatures who eat books to survive) maintain their bloodlines through patriarchal bullshit, this book follows Devon, a book eater who will do anything, and double cross anyone, to protect her son, who is a rare and dangerous mind eater.

The plot itself is propulsive, but the themes are where this book really shone for me. Let’s start with that patriarchal bullshit I mentioned. Book eaters are rare creatures, and female book eaters are the rarest of all. They are therefore treated with extreme care and fed only fairy tales until they are old enough to “marry” into another Family, birth a child, and leave for another “marriage.” It’s horrifying! But I’ve never seen a work of fiction handle that particular patriarchal message of “we control you because you’re special” so well.

Most importantly, this is a book about monstrous love. Devon commits actual atrocities to protect her son, and the book never lets her wave away the moral or emotional consequences. Instead, she acknowledges that she is in impossible situations, and that she willingly chooses to prioritize the wellbeing of her son over everyone else, including innocent bystanders. I loved that her motherly love was not allowed to be above reproach, which actually led it a weird beauty all its own.

“Everyone is scared of me, even the other mind eaters here. You’re not scared of me because you’re an even bigger, meaner monster than me… You’d eat the whole world to help me out and I think I’d do that for you, too. You’re my monster and I’m yours.”

Book Eaters

What Makes This Book Queer?

Devon is a queer woman; her role within the Family essentially being a breeder, she doesn’t realize her own preferences matter until she breaks free of the system. It’s an interesting take, since homophobia doesn’t seem to exist amongst the book eaters, but repressing your desires for the sake of duty definitely does.

Additionally, one of the few people Devon befriends identifies as asexual, and there’s a lovely conversation between the two where she asks what that means. It’s probably a great introduction to readers who aren’t too familiar with the term.

Who Do I Recommend This Book To?

If you love moral complexity and a new take on magical realism, Book Eaters is for you!

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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