My friend told me about this book, as she teaches it to her middle schoolers. I’m all for reading below my age group, so I picked up an audiobook from the library. The audiobook, unusually, was peppered with music, which I found rather distracting.
This is a typical dystopian fiction in which life is strictly regimented by a number of rules, information about life outside the community is circumscribed, and at a set point of adolescence (in this book it’s 12) each child is told their role for the rest of their life.* Jonah, the main character, is of course singled out as something truly special.
Jonah has two parents and a little sister, and a best friend named Asher who’s a bit of a goofball. There’s another girl named Fiona whom Jonah is sweet on, but in this community they take pills to keep from feeling lust. Jonah starts to see things that no one else sees, and when he undergoes his training, he is further set apart from those he grew up with by knowledge which he can’t share. This is a universal theme of longing, and it really resonates. You grow up, you grow apart from your family, who can’t understand your new life, and even though no one means for it to happen, you’re just not as close.
A lot of this book hinges on magic, for example, the transferring of memories from one person to another by touch. It also uses some wiggy magic that doesn’t make sense, like when Jonah is able to make his skin colder by indulging in the memory of snow. Why is there no color and no seasons and no animals in the city, but outside a non-tangible barrier, these exist? Shrug. Magic.
It uses some just plain bad math at one point, which really bugged me. They discuss “birth mothers” a role that some girls can be assigned to. The birth mothers have three children, and then they stop. Yet, birth mother is only one of the roles a girl can have, and not a very honored one. If birth mothers were 90% of the female population, having three children would work, but if they’re only 1 in three, then each of these birth mothers needs to have 7 children. Also, they seem concerned about overpopulation (they decided birth mothers couldn’t have four children, because they were concerned about hunger) but considering how many people get released, it seems like they really need a surplus.
Despite the wiggy magic, I did like the book. Dystopian fiction isn’t my favorite, but I like it well enough, and this is a pretty good example of it.
*The “at some point an authority will tell you where you belong” keeps coming up as a theme in dystopian fiction, but I think for a lot of people, it’s probably more of a pleasant fantasy. A lot of people never quite figure out who they are or where they belong.