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The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard
Literary fiction

The Other Valley

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Scott Alexander Howard, on your first book!

by Scott Alexander Howard

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Quick take

Posing incisive questions about time, fate, and civilization, this genre-bendy tale is the ultimate literary what-if.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Brainy

    Brainy

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Underdog

    Underdog

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NoQuotationMarks

    No quotation marks

Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Odile is an awkward, quiet girl vying for a coveted seat on the Conseil. If she earns the position, she’ll decide who may cross her town’s heavily guarded borders. On the other side, it’s the same valley, the same town. Except to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it’s twenty years behind. The towns repeat in an endless sequence across the wilderness.

When Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn’t supposed to see, she realizes that the parents of her friend Edme have been escorted across the border from the future, on a mourning tour, to view their son while he’s still alive in Odile’s present.

Edme—who is brilliant, funny, and the only person to truly see Odile—is about to die. Sworn to secrecy in order to preserve the timeline, Odile now becomes the Conseil’s top candidate. Yet she finds herself drawing closer to the doomed boy, imperiling her entire future.

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Content warning

This book contains mentions of a death of a child.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Other Valley.
The Other Valley

Part I

I used to stand alone by the cloakroom door. In the morning before school, and again when the lunch bell rang and the others ran out to the field, I walked to the same spot and rested my head on the sharp crags of stucco. An outcrop of shadow protected the wall from the autumn heat. With folded hands I stood in the shade, gazing at the backwoods and waiting out the day.

I took up my station at the rear of the school after Clare’s parents moved downtown, leaving me friendless in the neighborhood. I sometimes ran into her at the store or on the boulevard, but as our mothers chatted, our scant talk revealed that our common ground had been only literal, the adjoining area between our yards. The new neighbors were old and seemed to wear housecoats all day. And so, at school, I became the girl by the door: Odile who stands by herself. Never spoken to and seldom spoken of. Staring at nothing with eyes like carved wood, as motionless as an effigy.

Before the bell called everyone in, I liked to slip inside the classroom a minute early. Six empty rows faced an immaculate blackboard. The dusty odor of chalk blended with a pungent oil. My teacher, M. Pichegru, habitually rubbed his desk with a wet black rag. When I was younger the oily smell had made my nostrils curl.

Then the bell would ring, the cloakroom door would open behind me, and the room would rush with noise. In the storm of laughter and gossip, I remained alone. But when Pichegru strode in with his books and his switch, everybody hushed. We stood in our uniforms until he motioned us to sit, and for the next hours of lectures and tests I was glad to have company in my silence.

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Why I love it

It’s easy to draw me into a book with a unique, off-kilter world. So it’s no surprise that The Other Valley, with its fascinating puzzle-logic and strange mores, immediately drew me in.

In this world, time plays by different rules. Ten nearly identical valley communities sit side by side. However, each is on a different axis of time. The valley to your east is twenty years in the future, the valley to your west is twenty years in the past. Under special circumstances, citizens of one valley may visit another. But trips must be kept brief, under strict oversight of trained personnel; and above all, don’t interact with anyone in the other valley during your visit.

A young woman training to be one of those charged with guiding visitors from her valley to its east and west counterparts is at first fascinated by all she learns about the many secret rules governing her world. She thrills at the intellectual challenge and discipline required to uphold order. But then as she learns more, she realizes just how much is at stake and begins to question her investment in the status quo…

If you could travel forwards or backwards twenty years in time, would you? What would be the repercussions? Read on for a brilliant and highly moving investigation. This story is no mere thought exercise. It brims with ever so human questions and the thrill of trying to make one’s own path. Even—perhaps especially—when the whole world seems against it.

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Member ratings (589)

  • Jolie C.

    Wharton, TX

    I have such mixed feelings on this one! Absolutely amazing read, but the pacing was a bit frustrating along the way. Overall, I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it, so: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Christine H.

    Indianapolis, IN

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Slow start, but a polished & satisfying conclusion. The characters suffered a bit in favor of the plot, & I wished for quotation marks. Still, a thought-provoking read with a hint of sci-fi.

  • Vee H.

    Kaneohe, HI

    This book surpasses amazing. It’s one of those “only once” experiences for a reader. I loved every page of it, & complaints about formatting should be skipped for the sake of the quality of the story.

  • Jordan W.

    Scarborough, ON

    Is there a word for the oxymoron “positive melancholia”? That’s the emotion this book elicits in me. It’s a cerebral exercise in philosophical determinism, masquerading as a fun and engaging novel.

  • Lily H.

    Granite Falls, WA

    This book was so unique and interesting! It was a little slow at first, but once it picked up I had a hard time putting it down. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. I’m glad for a happy ending.

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