It’s hard to rope in a reader by the first page, but Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn succeeded in pulling me in by the first paragraph.
Enid came downstairs into a kitchen bright with morning sun blazing through the one window and full of greasy smell of cooked sausage. Olive already had breakfast—sausage, toast, cream—set out on the table. In her dress and apron, her dark hair pulled back with a scrap of cloth, she was already at work—but she shouldn’t have been, in Enid’s opinion. (1)
This first paragraph reels you in with 1) an image of the main character’s movement, 2) imagery that expands just beyond the typical visuals, and 3) internal reflection on behalf of the main character. It doesn’t take much but that small hint of Olive doing too much work in Enid’s opinion already sets a small conflict in motion, which propels the reader forward, to want to keep reading, but with this book, because it has a tendency to leave its conflicts unresolved, the book doesn’t live up to the expectations of the beginning.
CONFLICTS WITHIN BANNERLESS
- Olive trying to get pregnant (post miscarriage) (2, 8)
- MAIN: Enid discovering the source of the suspicious death in Pasadan (3)
- Enid wanting to leave, learning what she wants to do for her life (47)
- Enid discovering love (46)
- Enid learning whether she wants a banner (46)
- Enid discovering why the investigators are in Fintown (111)
- Enid discovering the source to Pasadan’s false happiness (160)
- Enid wondering if Tomas is too old to be an investigator (178)
Although the book has one main plot, of discovering the source of the suspicious death in Pasadan, it also has several minor conflicts, most of which are listed above, and at first glance, most of these conflicts don’t see interconnected except they are, connected by a single motif—banners. In this book, everyone wants a banner. A banner means the allowance to have children. A banner means that you have earned your place in the community, that you have worked hard to support another possible mouth to feed.
But while everyone else wants a banner, Enid is not sure she wants one. Someone first asks her about it when shes a kid (46), but at that point, in her young age, she doesn’t think she’ll ever want one, which to me is confusing, because while she denies it, she tears at Olive offering her the banner later in life and she seems constantly focused on babies and banners, insisting that most investigations seem to stem toward people wanting a banner. People would to any extent to earn that banner, even falsifying quotas or overextending their fields. She seems almost obsessive on the subject.
And yet, for how much this book seems to focus on babies, it doesn’t seem to offer any closure on the subject. It dances around the subject, similar to how Enid dances around the subject of love. When this conflict is first initially opened on page 46, with Enid jealous of how people her age are finding love and having sex, she doesn’t seem to understand the allure, although she wants to. And while the book continues with her hooking up with Dak, she doesn’t truly find love until Sam, which leaves me wondering, why is Sam better than Dak? Why do we see five seconds of Sam and half a book of Dak when the resolution to this conflict is her falling in love with Sam. She even admits to him being better in the end!
So while this book seems to wrap up most of its conflicts at first glance, it seems to offer very superficial closure, never completely resolving the heart of any conflict. We never see Enid find love. We never learn why or why not she doesn’t want kids. We never learn why the investigators are in Fintown. We never see her house earn their baby through Olive. This leaves at least half of the conflicts listed above open-ended and unresolved, which brings me to warningly say, always offer closure. At least unless you’re planning on a volume 2.
Over-arching theme: Are children a god-given right? Or are they a privilege that’s earned?
Vaughn, Carrie. Bannerless. New York, NY: Mariner, 2017. Print.