Stephanie reviews The Builders by Tonya Cannariato

the-builders
TW: Mental illness, anxiety, and sexual abuse
Let me start by saying that I really wanted to love this book. It’s categorized as sci-fi/fantasy, so I was excited to read a novel that blended same-gender loving characters and science fiction. Unfortunately, neither of these categories actually fit this novel all that well.
The novel’s protagonist is Tara Shifflet, a meeting planner on her way back to Atlanta after finishing a project in Milwaukee. She spots a gorgeous, strangely tattooed woman in her hotel bar, and eventually strikes up a conversation with her. Tara is not lesbian, but finds herself extremely attracted to this woman. Before she can connect in any meaningful way, an interloper interrupts them, someone that Navenah doesn’t know, but was expecting.  Tara berates herself and tries to put the brief interaction behind her (this will be important later). The next morning, she arrives at the airport to catch her flight back home, but is delayed because of what seems to be a first contact event on the runway. It’s only a lightshow, but it triggers an airport lockdown and Tara finds herself in quarantine with the other passengers scheduled to fly out that day.
Thus begins what I had hoped to be an adventure, and for the first quarter of the novel, we do get a bit of excitement as Tara and Navenah make their way from Milwaukee back to Atlanta.  Most of what drives this novel is the author’s commitment to laying bare Tara’s anxiety, although we only get snippets of the cause of her trauma until near the end of the novel. We do know that her mother (a high-profile politician) has had her committed, and that her therapy cat, Bear, is her lifeline when she’s experiencing high-levels of anxiety. While I understand Cannariato’s decision to center this issue in the novel, it’s also what slows it down.
My main frustrations with the book are pacing and plot. While the initial first contact event works to drive the tension and plot early in the novel, nearly halfway through, I was still baffled as to what was really going on. There are also shadowy federal agents that never seem to materialize, seemingly important characters that just disappear from the novel, and for a novel that purports to be sci-fi, there just aren’t enough aliens.  Additionally, we never learn name of Navenah’s planet, exactly why her species may soon go extinct, or how it is that Tara is needed for them to survive. Make no mistake, there is a LOT of exposition in this novel, but most of it centers on Tara’s anxiety. Even with the spaceship propelled by Tara’s energy, and the cocoon-like pods where life is created, I never got the sense that I was actually reading science fiction, and for me, that was the major drawback of this novel.
Finally, this novel contains minor and graphic depictions of emotional, psychological and sexual abuse, as well as the strategies that Tara uses to cope with it. Like I mentioned earlier, Cannariato is committed to revealing the nuances and challenges of persons suffering from anxiety as a result of child abuse, and for that I’m grateful, we need literature that does that. However, if you’re looking for science fiction that’s heavy on action and aliens, this may not be the novel for you.
TAGS: Science fiction, fantasy, Tonya Cannariato, S. Andrea Allen,
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