The Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the second of Tor’s new Tor Essentials line I’ve read–the first was The Dragon Waiting, so it’s in good company. I’m eager to see the rest of what they’re doing here, because these are two books I love and want to see a larger audience.

The Necessary Beggar is about a family of interdimensional refugees whose exile involves walking through a blue door into an unknown world…which happens to be Reno, NV, in the early part of the twenty-first century. Palwick does the best job I’ve ever seen at introducing characters to things that are unfamiliar to them and familiar to us, gradually building their knowledge of the culture we already know in a way that illuminates it.

She’s also done a beautiful job creating a family that comes from the same culture but has prioritized different aspects of it–no one person has to stand in for the whole, each gets to be fully individualized, and as a result the pieces of culture they cling to in their new home vary extremely. There’s not a lot of standard science fiction furniture here–after the dimensional travel, the book is mostly stuff that could happen at any time if there happened to be people with those personalities and cultural beliefs around to make it happen.

The Necessary Beggar, as its back cover tells us, is from the perspectives of a girl, a grandfather, and a ghost. I am a sucker for tales of relentless young girls and the grandpas who love them, so this is right in my wheelhouse. The ghost turns out to be pretty interesting too. But the main thing about this book is that it’s some of the most compassionate science fiction I’ve ever read. The people get to be full, flawed people and still love each other and make their way an an imperfect world with some of the most focus on kindness that I’ve ever seen in a book. This book dives into some extremely difficult issues–refugees, immigration, homelessness, alcoholism, suicide, cultural loss, depression–but it does so with such love that the potentially depressing nature of the topics is turned to hope. Highly recommended, so glad it’s available in this new edition.

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