by Susan Moger
Reviewed by SA
The book is unique in so many ways, and I have read nothing like it. It’s one of those books we’re so excited to have discovered, so that we can share it with you. Set in 1920s America, but not following gangsters or Gatsbies, we’re taken somewhere I never expected to go in a YA novel: a eugenics driven america. Rowan’s world is so unlike what we are used to, it makes for a wonderful read.
Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics–the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding–has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. After years of being confined to hospitals, Rowan is recruited at sixteen to play a born cripple in a county fair eugenics exhibit. But gutsy, outspoken Dorchy befriends Rowan and helps her realize her own inner strength and bravery. The two escape the fair and end up at a summer camp on a desolate island run by the New England Eugenics Council. There they discover something is happening to the children. Rowan must find a way to stop the horrors on the island if she can escape them herself.
I’m a little torn on this novel. On the one hand, it had a fantastic premise, great characters, and I had a great time reading it. On there other, there were a few odd things that made me wonder what kind of book it really was. In the end, enjoyment overruled my opinion, and so I have to say I really did like it all in all.
Focusing on such a Eugenics driven america was both a) disturbing and b) utterly fascinating. Having our young protagonist, Rowan, drive the story and tell all from her point of view, gave us a limited scope of this world. It made me wonder at times the scale of the Fitter Families movement: has it taken over the world, almost like a dystopian/alternate history, or do we just have that opinion because it IS Rowan’s world?
On that same line of thought, you have a few things that make you wonder if you’re in the same 1920’s that you’ve heard so much about, or an alternate era. At many times I wondered if there was more to that era than I thought, and it aded some really cool details to the book. The author’s note at the end about what aspects of real history inspired her to write this novel really spoke to me, and really made me enjoy the book even more.
However, I somewhat felt as if I was reading two different books here, split neatly down the middle. The same characters, the same premise, but with different pacing and plot. I couldn’t tell if the author left the beginning long in order to get us to the main story, or if it was just deliberate pacing that way. However, the second half felt like a clean cut and a very separate story. The cast of characters is different, and there are no longer any flashbacks (or, at least, there are very few of them). They feel very distinct.
The character development is fantastic: the people you meet have depth and dimension. That’s probably what made this book so enjoying to real: Rowan could come off a little annoying at times, but it was obviously deliberate, and she was still relatable. It was Dorchy’s character that blew me away, I loved her.
I really enjoyed this read, no matter how nitpicky I am. it was fun, clever, and really unique, with fantastic characters and memorable… everything.
Comes out February 1st 2016 by Aw Teen. Don’t miss it!