YA dystopias are all the rage, to the point that a successful recipe has developed: take one teenage rebel, mix in a love story, simmer with political machinations, and boil to at least a trilogy for maximum impact.1 This book contains all those ingredients, but doesn’t come across half-baked. It, like the protagonist, desires to honestly explore a world of both tragedy and hope, humor and pathos, love and fear.
Without giving too much away: Thalli lives in an underground bunker sheltering the last survivors of Earth’s final nuclear war, ruled by the Scientists who built it. Each successive generation is genetically designed to be more productive, less emotional, while each person is developed for a specific purpose. Thalli is her generation’s Musician. Her friend Berk is to be the best of them all: a Scientist. But Thalli is different on a subversive level. She feels, deeply, and asks far too many questions. More than her own life will be changed by these dangerous tendencies.
Author Krista McGee is to be commended for distilling such a fully realized world into so few pages, without any excess exposition or data dumps. Details were revealed as they were needed, never intruding or halting the narrative but flowing alongside it. I also appreciated how Thalli was allowed to gradually acclimate to new situations and become her own person rather than conform to the many stereotypes such a character could easily have fallen into. She’s a heroine who learns to love without being defined it, combining creativity and logical reasoning, and able to eventually make her own choices while remaining compassionate to the needs of others.
The book doesn’t offer easy answers. The Scientists in this book are portrayed as flawed individuals who truly believe they are doing what is right for humanity. There’s an antagonist, true, but he doesn’t waste time monologuing plans for domination. He actually works as a Scientist would, studying, observing, and proposing solutions for what he sees as the greater good. Other Scientists are portrayed as caring for people, and Berk’s training serves him well as he seeks to work changes from within the system.
Even the faith element of the story was presented without simple solutions. Introducing the protagonist to God didn’t magically whisk her problems away, nor did she change into a completely different person. Instead, she gained the ability to see past her fear and make choices not based on her own needs but those of others. That’s a real testimony that didn’t require extensive or complicated theological discussions, which would have been inappropriate to the story.
Some may the pace slow, but I enjoyed reading a YA book that didn’t depend on pure adrenaline. Both Thalli and Brek were great protagonists, and the secondary characters also shone (even the “villains”). The stark, first-person prose captured exactly what a young teen thrust in such situations might feel, neither drowning in the emotion nor ignoring it, allowing the reader to truly live through another’s eyes.
Some parents may be uncomfortable with children reading about a dystopian world, particularly one where death is casually used against those who step out of line. I respect such views, but I highly encourage them to read this book first before making a blanket judgment. The subject matter is handled very well, portraying the gravity of the situation without straying into inappropriate territory. Readers from sixth grade onward will find much to ponder, discuss, and learn from.