Read: 5th November 2020 – 7th November 2020 DNF
CW: non-consensual kiss (called out in text), kidnapping, ableism, eugenics, use of r slur
DNF’d @ 25%
Eighteen-year-old Isla lives in Naudiz, a historical reenactment community in a future America. Contracted by the government to perform the traditions of her Mennonite ancestors for tourists, she loves her family but wonders where life could take her.
A new schoolteacher spots Isla’s potential as a CREIA cadet, making her one of many girls recruited to visit the closely guarded Library of Ages. There are rumors that girls who go to the CREIA never return, but Isla is armed with a powerful tincture from her brother’s workshop and has her best friend Esme by her side.
She soon learns the dark secrets hidden in the CREIA’s beautiful campus. The girls are assessed for a sinister destiny and forced to become dream addicts, forever lost in a hallucinogenic reality. When it seems there is no hope left, Isla’s connection to nature and the chance at a new love reveal that the key to the future lies in the past. Sifting among the ruins, she finds herself standing up to answer the question all Citizens want to know: Where will they go as the Earth begins to heal from environmental destruction, growing into a lush land full of promise?
I struggled with this one, and I’ve decided that I have to let it go.
I didn’t enjoy the writing style. It kinda made sense for Isla to narrate and talk the way that she did, she’s spent her whole life literally living in a pre-civil war reenactment so of course her way of speaking would sound stilted and unusual to someone from today. But when all the characters who weren’t raised in a historical reenactment are talking in exactly the same formal and stilted way, there’s a problem. Plus there were so many moments where everything stops so the characters can say things they already know to provide exposition for the reader, and not once did it read as natural to me.
I can accept strict gender norms, cisnormativity, and heteronormativity in a futuristic and dystopian setting if the main character chafes against it and it’s shown to be wrong. Granted, I only read a quarter of this book, but what I read in that quarter gave me no hope that these things would be improved upon later on. A side character’s father had died at some point in the backstory, so she and her mother don’t work on their family’s farm anymore because apparently it’s impossible for women to do that. There’s no way that Isla could possibly find someone she likes at this tech company job interview thing, because there are only going to be girls there, and obviously we all know that girls need to find husbands. The narration uses the phrase ‘his or hers’ completely unironically. It takes more effort to do that than it does to just say ‘they’, I guarantee that when people aren’t thinking about it they’ll say ‘they’ automatically. I did it just then, and that wasn’t even planned! Whenever I see someone use ‘his or hers’ it just tells me that they deliberately took the time to decide not to be inclusive, and there’s never any excuse for that.
I think Isla should be gay. I think that would resolve some (not all, but some) of the issues I’ve had with the first quarter of this book. If she’s gay, then she would have to call out and go against some of the things that the society presented in this book accept as being universally true, and I genuinely think that this extra layer would make for a more interesting story. It’s also the only way that the constant cisnormativity and heteronormativity would be even slightly worth it. But I’m not going to make myself sit through something I’m not enjoying in the vain hope that the main character might be gay. I’ve done that before, it’s never worth it.
To clarify, I’m not saying that I don’t like reading about cis and straight characters, or that this book is bad because it is, as far as I can tell, about cis and straight characters. But this was obnoxiously so to the point where it was pulling me out of the story. I was perhaps the wrong person for the publisher to approach with this one.
I’ve read the first quarter and she’s only just reached the CREIA HQ. Which is supposed to be the inciting incident as indicated in the book’s description. In all the page time so far, nothing of significance has actually happened. We’ve simply followed Isla through a few days in her life before she’s finally taken to the place where the story is actually going to happen. I don’t have the time or the patience for this.
The exact thing that made me stop reading was the use of the r slur in a list of things (including ‘physical abnormalities’) that developing technology and ‘genetic control’ is apparently able to eradicate. I’m well aware that it’s the bad guys who are literally advocating eugenics here, but I legitimately cannot tell whether the reader is supposed to think that this is what makes them the bad guys, or if it’s something else that hasn’t been revealed yet. Isla certainly didn’t see a problem with getting rid of disabled people. And regardless of the intended meaning of the scene, I don’t think the slur was necessary at all.
I didn’t read enough of this to feel comfortable rating it, but if I’d pushed through I doubt my rating would’ve been a high one. I do not recommend this book.
I received an e-arc from the publisher in return for an honest review. All quotes may differ in the published version.
About The Author
Anne-Marie Yerks is a creative writer from metro Detroit, MI. A graduate of George Mason’s MFA program, her work has appeared in literary journals such as “Juked,” “The Penn Review,” and in several anthologies. She is the author of “Dream Junkies” (New Rivers Press, 2016). She has freelanced for many magazines, publishing non-fiction articles about wellness, fashion, real estate, crafts, home improvement, and education. A longtime writing teacher, she loves traveling to literary destinations and occasionally presents at AWP and the Winter Wheat Festival of Writing. Anne-Marie is also a certified seamstress (but prefers the word “sewist”), a fiber artist, and a beginning gardener. Contact her on Twitter @amy1620.
About The Blogger
El is a 21 year old university student from the UK who loves to read and loves talking about what they read. They particularly like to focus on books featuring lgbtq+ main characters.