Writing a coming-of-age story isn’t easy, especially with how many books centered around this theme have been released, making it hard to tell a unique story that stands out.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan puts a magical and much more lighthearted spin on this type of story which has seen it earn multiple nominations for its quality such as for ABC’s Best Book for Young Readers and the Florida Teens Read Award.
The story of the clever but slightly obnoxious thirteen-year-old Elliot attending school in the “Borderlands” after a magical encounter on a school trip has captured the imagination of readers across the world, with crucial and important lessons about growing up and maturity cleverly incorporated within the overall story.
The good news for those who enjoyed reading about Elliot’s fun and exciting experiences in the Borderlands is that there are many novels from other fantastic authors full of imaginary creatures and fantastical imagery that also teach important lessons about maturity, here are a few of the best from highly-acclaimed authors including Rainbow Rowell and Philip Reeve.
In Other Lands Themes
The beautiful blonde-haired elven Serene is a mysteriously magical character who is one of the first people Elliot meets when he first steps over into the Borderlands, and throughout the book we see her personality shine through as she discusses many of her personal beliefs to Elliot who has never thought about what it means to be a man, and how that shows itself in the real world.
Since men are viewed as the weaker gender in the elven society that Elliot steps into, it causes him to question gender roles and gender identity in his world, along with other societal concepts and ideas that allow him to become more individualist and mature in his thinking.
Behind his witty remarks and sarcastic comments about the mystical creatures he encounters when stepping over into the Borderlands, we come to learn through his personal narration that Elliot is a fairly lonely protagonist as he struggles to find love due to a lack of family and friends in his life.
This changes when he meets Serena, someone he originally takes a romantic interest in but soon realizes that a friendly relationship may be the better option for the both of them.
The theme of friendship and the personal struggles that can come with it are also shown through Luke, a goodhearted boy who struggles to decide whether he should be protecting his friends who may have bad intentions leading to their actions.
The messiness and complexity of finding and maintaining friends is another lesson Elliot and the other characters come to understand as part of their personal growth into maturity.
Making A Difference
In the first section of the story following Elliot’s first year in the Borderlands, he doesn’t have much interest in politics, seeing it as more of an unimportant concept for the grown-ups to deal with.
However, as each year goes by and Elliot witnesses how the shifting political sphere is affecting the people and society around him, he starts to become more involved, and while he realizes he can’t change it all on his own, he comes to understand that each citizen can make a difference in the larger context by voicing their opinion to make a change.
Books Like In Other lands
Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
The mystical and charming writing that makes In Other Lands such a beloved book is a writing style used just as well by the award-winning young-adult author Philip Reeve in Here Lies Arthur, a story about power, and how an individual can use that power to help others and change their perspective on life, seeing it as something more worthwhile and precious.
We witness this struggle of learning to use power and influence responsibly through the eyes of Gwyna, a small and timid girl who participates in the creation of the legendary King Arthur.
However, when she witnesses the cruelty and violence caused by Arthur, along with committing some immoral acts of her own, this re-telling of the tale of King Arthur is not only a fantastic coming-of-age story for Gwyna as she learns lessons of responsibility, but it is also full of historical references.
You’ll find a fascinating insight into the truths of many figures that history has come to admire, despite how cruel or immoral they were when they were around.
- Very deep and intricate insight into the responsibility that comes with power and influence
- Plenty of historical imagery and references
- Enough fictional elements to keep the story exciting and unpredictable
- Gwyna is a very likable and relatable protagonist
- Pacing can feel a bit rushed because of how short the book is
Themes: Power, guilt, responsibility, separating fact from fiction, maturity
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
For a book to even be comparable to the wonder and imagination that can be found in Sarah Reese Brennan’s In Other Lands, it needs to have a world that feels as exciting and unique as the Borderlands is in that book, and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell contains a world that is fun and fantastical that also parallels our own world in many ways.
Alongside the world-building, the main duo of Simon and Baz are just as well-written and such a joy to read about, whether they’re just hanging out in their dorm having an argument about which one of them is better at using magic.
Then, they’re taking down a terrifying monster while side by side, you can be sure to find plenty of coming-of-age themes in this book including the value of friendship, questioning the world around you, and coming to terms with your mistakes which is primarily shown through Simon – who struggles to use spells and magic in a world of experienced wizards and spell casters.
The lovable main duo with their sarcastic brotherly humor, paired with the incredible world-building makes this one of Rowell’s best books which is just as magical of a read as In Other Lands with a few similar themes centered around growing up and maturing also being present throughout the narrative.
- The main duo of Simon and Baz are fun and compelling main characters
- A few unexpected twists and turns to keep the story engaging throughout
- Side characters are well-developed and still relevant to the plot
- Relatable themes centered around accepting yourself when surrounded by expectations
- Monsters are incredibly unique and very detailed
- The middle of the book can be a lot less compelling in comparison to the beginning and end
Themes: Companionship, loneliness, societal expectations, self-confidence
The Island At The End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
When Ami is separated from her mother by Mr. Zamora, a member of a malicious government seeking to turn the small and quaint island they once called home into a new colony, the young girl plots a way to return to her island and see her mother once again while remaining undetected by the government forces that surround her in Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s best selling novel The Island at the End of Everything.
Ami, along with a few friends that she makes during her time in the orphanage, sets out across the sea on an adventurous and daring journey to her home before it’s too late as she learns crucial lessons about survival, sacrifice, and how dangerous the world outside really can be to those on the other side of an ideology or belief.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave writes the character of Ami perfectly, being a young and innocent girl who must suddenly learn about all the hardships and cruelties of life as she becomes more disillusioned with the fairy tale life she once lived.
While this book does take a slightly more serious tone to In Other Lands, it still has a lot of charm and witty dialogue with plenty of themes about growing up and being confident enough to face the world when the odds are stacked against you.
- The tone manages to be both serious and realistic while still having a magical charm to the writing and characters
- The side characters are all interesting and unique
- Perfect balancing between Ami’s physical and metaphorical journey
- The ending can fall a little flat and is over quite quickly
Themes: Family, sacrifice, ideologies, hope
In a world where new young adult literature seems to be released every day, In Other Lands stands out for how well it manages to blend a mystical and magical world with important messages and life lessons for not just children and teenagers, but all readers.
If you loved the tale of Elliot and his wonderful adventures in the Borderlands, you’re going to love these young adult novels (Also check out Books Like Bone Gap) recommended above that include all the magic, charm, and humor that make Sarah Rees Brennan’s books so beloved.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is In Other Lands A Standalone Novel?
In Other Lands is one of the only novels Sarah Rees Brennan has written that is not part of a series, with the only other being Tell the Wind and Fire released in 2019.
Her longest, and most popular series are the Lynburn Legacy and the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
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