In this dystopian paradise the ‘perfect body’ is the Holy Grail. It is the new religion of the land and health camps are the new places of worship and redemption. What is this ‘perfect body’? It is neither too large nor too thin. Both theses extremes are ‘punished’. It is not just about your shape, it is your image as well. ‘Your body is a temple and it must be treasured, kept immaculate, perfectly coiffured and polished.
A cast of rogues and charlatans rule the country. The Dedicated Sisters, who ‘help’ the transgressors, are to be feared and then there is the Rev Earl, the evangelical, publicly, adored saviour of the likes of the ‘elderly’, who of course fear retribution (unemployment/starvation) for not possessing perfection any longer. There is a darkness behind the ‘joy’ and ‘positive’ messages relayed to the populace. All is not sparkling and wonderful in the land. These evangelical saviours run concentration style camps ‘helping’ the transgressor with enforced feeding or starvation. If you are sent to one of these it is ‘known’ you are never the same again.
Annie Abercrombie is handed over, by her parents, to these ‘helpers’ for her own good and to mitigate the shame she has brought to the family. However, Annie is loved as she is and how she is, by her siblings who travel across the land in search of her, to rescue and restore her. It is a hazardous journey as they endeavour to locate Annie and avoid any trouble themselves.
It is a land where double standards abound of course, and we discover some unpleasant secrets along the way. The messiahs of this new religion are, as with many religious or secular leaders, not without cracks and faults of their own.
With the present dysfunctional views of body image one could almost imagine this world existing, and I think a YA book on this subject is perfectly relevant. It may be, as some critics have said, a little thin in characterisation but it is a compelling and uneasy read for all that. Here is described all the pain and loneliness attendant on this ridiculous search for, and maintenance of, ‘perfection’. The absurdity of the fetishism for ‘beauty’. Whose idea of ‘beauty’? Whose idea of ‘perfection’? is a question that has been needed to be seriously examined for a long time.
If this novel makes just a few youngsters and their parents rethink the present trend towards unhealthy feelings about the human body then this is a book well worth reading. This old lady enjoyed the read and applauds the theme.
The second book I am writing about to day is
Inside, Out by Maria V Snyder
This is an intriguing Sci-fi book and the beginning of a series. A tale of a society consisting of different levels of importance in the population. So, you say, aren’t all societies constructed thus? Of course however, dystopian societies construct these layers to ensure the down-trodden, poor, worthless members continue to suffer the treading.
Trella is a ‘scrub’, a member of the lowest of the low, an outsider in society as a class and an outsider to her own kind; she prefers her own company and bends the rules, which govern her, to her own desire of being apart from the others. Her job involves climbing the maintenance pipes to maintain them and keep the air vents clear, all to keep life comfortable for the upper levels. After work she climbs back into them for a place to relax and be her own person. To be an outsider, such as this is, to be a rebel and scrubs can be recycled for fertiliser, as she is reminded on many occasions.
She is mistrustful of all except her one true friend. It is her care and loyalty to her friend that leads her to inadvertently instigate and lead a rebellion from these lower levels of society and reality.
The tale has many twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, much action and a few nail biting moments. In her dangerous journey to the top levels and what she hopes is the hopeful future of her kind Trella discovers kindness and support and learns to trust a little.
Although I had guessed the end revelation before I reached it (I have been reading for many more decades than the young YA reader), all the truths are revealed slowly as Trella climbs her pipes and make for a good climax at the end. I found Inside, Out very imaginative with some intriguing details of this particular ‘world’. It is a claustrophobic place and Maria V Snyder portrays this well. The other point in its favour that although it is the first of a series it works well as a stand alone book, ends neatly sewn together.
I have read other YA during this challenge, including some of those I read nearly six decades ago, and will be reporting how I feel the old stand up next to the modern day novels. I was surprised I have enjoyed these YAs so much and, although I probably won’t be going out of my way to buy any more, after all my TBR pile is tremendous and my reading days numbered, it is great to know good books for children and teenagers are alive and flourishing.
angler fish by Vlad Gerasimov
These two books tick boxes both for the dystopian and the new author challenges