As the mom of special needs children, this book was somewhat difficult to read at times. But that’s kind of the point of dystopian fiction – it’s not meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In the world of Meritropolis, all citizens are assigned a Score based on their worth to society – being smart, healthy, and attractive nets you a High Score; being disabled, unattractive, or ill drops your Score. And if your Score drops too low? Well, then you’re put outside the gates in a special ceremony… and left to fend for yourself against the aggressive crossbreed genetically mutated animals that roam free outside the walls of the city.
There’s definitely a “Hunger Games” type of feel to this book – not in a rip-off sort of way; this book is unique unto itself – but as a YA dystopian novel with smart, strong teenage characters trying to change what they know to be wrong with the damaged world they live in.
One thing I particularly appreciated about this book is that the characters aren’t “all good” or “all bad.” The leader of the bad guys, Commander Orson, isn’t pure evil. Many times the antagonist of a story is purely evil with no redeeming characteristics, but Commander Orson has some good qualities (albeit not many of them). He’s in charge of all of Meritropolis, but he has his limits as to how far he’ll use his power to get what he wants. And as the story progresses and the reader learns some of the motivations behind his choices and actions, you almost feel something like sympathy for him. Likewise, the protagonist, Charley, is a “hero” – but he’s a flawed hero with his own dark side.
As a fan of George Orwell, I also liked the small nod to Animal Farm: Charley thinks of himself as Commander Orson’s “prize-winning bull,” and then thinks to himself that “under the System’s human farm all were equal, but some were just more equal than others.”
The ambiguous ending definitely leaves itself wide open for a sequel, which I’m very much looking forward to reading!
I received a copy of this book for review purposes; all opinions are my own.