I first heard of Whispers in Autumn when indie author Trisha Leigh revealed her cover on Twitter. I saw the pretty cover and read the synopsis, then immediately emailed Trisha to see if I could get a review copy. See, the synopsis was about aliens. And I haven’t read a good alien book in a while, and I figured I was due. She got right back to me with a review copy, and I was excited to get started.
Whispers in Autumn follows Althea, a teenage girl who’s not like the others. She has spent most of her life unnoticed, as her parents, classmates and teachers all seem to look through her, not at her. She’s learned to take her perceived invisibility in stride, not letting it get to her when she leaves a place for months at a time and when she returns, no one ever noticed her absence.
For another strange thing about Althea is that she has three families, in three cities, and only ever stays with them for one season. She has no control over when she travels from one family to the next. One minute she’ll be experiencing winter in Iowa; the next, autumn in Connecticut. Spring is spent in Oregon, and it is never summer. This is how it’s been her whole life, and the only explanation she has is from a mysterious being named Ko, telling her she’s different, and to trust no one.
But this time, as she travels to autumn in Danbury, Connecticut, with her autumn family, the Morgans, something is different. The alien Others are searching Danbury, and although no one knows what they’re searching for, their presence fills Althea with foreboding.
The presence of the Others isn’t the only thing that’s different though. For this time in Danbury, Althea meets Lucas, and for the first time, someone seems to really see her. As she struggles to determine what the Others are looking for and whether she can trust Lucas, she also has to control the power building inside her that would alert the world that she is different, and dangerous.
Whispers in Autumn doesn’t mess around. It jumps in with both feet, and I’ll admit, it took me several chapters to get my bearings. I couldn’t figure out what Althea was talking about when she mentioned traveling, didn’t understand how she spent different seasons in different places, couldn’t wrap my mind around how she had three families that all never seemed to notice when she was gone. I adjusted my expectations to be disappointed by this book, because I wasn’t sure how this could all make sense.
But eventually, it did make sense. Not absolutely everything, but enough that I was able to understand why things were happening and how they came to be. It was never explained outright. The book is from Althea’s perspective, and she just lives her life as she always has, with no need to really lay out what’s going on. So it may be hard for people unaccustomed to the odd twists and turns of sci-fi to ever fully process what’s going on in this book.
I liked Althea. She was guarded and untrusting, which can be very frustrating traits in a main character, but it’s easy to understand why she is the way she is. Even when I immediately liked Lucas and wanted her to open up to him, it took her a lot longer. And at the same time, she had an inherent need to try to find others like her, to not be so alone, and it led her to wanting to trust some characters that I got a bad vibe off of from the beginning. Again, it was frustrating, but easy to understand why she felt that way.
The world building is very interesting, but also subtle. At first, you get the impression that the only weird thing about this world is Althea, but slowly you realize that nothing is the way we’re used to thinking of it. Although the families live in neighborhoods and watch movies and the kids go to school and the pizza parlor, it’s all different. And slowly, the reader begins to realize just how much about this world isn’t what it seems.
Trisha Leigh’s writing and pacing is engaging, and the book held my interest. It wasn’t quite the alien adventure I was expecting; there weren’t ray guns and force fields and spaceships and explosions. It was more character-driven, less alien-technology-centric. The villains are more creepy than scary, and the build towards the climax is gradual and almost quiet. There are several tense and suspenseful scenes, but don’t go in expecting explosions and fights.
My biggest complaint with this book is that sometimes, the laws of physics seem to be ignored. Now before you say, “this is sci-fi; what did you expect?” let me clarify. I’m totally wiling to accept aliens and spaceships and futuristic technology. That’s 100% okay in my book. But if you take a known physical property, like for example, gravity, and then change it, there had better be a good explanation as to why that works. And this book took a couple familiar concepts and altered them without explanation. For example, if the temperature of a room heats up enough to make the water on the stove boil, I’m pretty sure any humans in the room are dead, not just sweaty. Or if someone’s entire body heats up enough to melt glass, I’m pretty sure their clothes are on fire too. If an explanation was given about how the heat worked so that faces weren’t melting and clothes weren’t burning, I would have been okay with that. But either there was no explanation or I missed it, and it took me out of the story a little bit every time something like that popped up.
However, laws of physics aside, I still thought Whispers in Autumn was an enjoyable and creative read. I’m fairly certain Trisha Leigh is planning to make this a trilogy, with the other two books coming out later in 2012 or early 2013. Which is good, because the book ended on what I wouldn’t exactly call a cliffhanger, but more of a game-changer. I’ll be excited to see what happens next in Althea’s story.
Content Guide: Contains violence and profanity