“Watch out for the blanks.”
Sixteen-year-old Leora takes her father’s dying words as a warning against those who refuse the sacred obligation to record every deed as observable tattoos, eventually to be bound and reverently preserved by their descendants. So the discrepancies between her father’s own “skin book” and her memories shake all of Leora’s comfortable assumptions. Broadway presents an intriguing dystopian conceit: an apparently benevolent society, completely transparent, valuing persons of every color equally (although it’s considered “lucky” and “refined” to be “pale” like Leora)—yet also riddled with bigotry, paranoia, and hypocrisy. Still, some of the ambiguities are just confusing: are the “blanks” individuals who are exercising free choice or an entirely separate race? Is Leora responsible for her own decisions, or is she a special, predestined savior? Leora’s present-tense narration slowly dribbles out trickles of plot amid torrents of mind-numbing exposition, studded with portentous dreams and twists on traditional folk tales. While her voice—naïve, vacillating, and constantly self-deprecating—can be irritating, it’s far less frustrating than the overused device in which characters inexcusably conceal vital information in order to drive events. As these deceptions finally crumble, Leora is provoked into a series of rash choices, culminating in a flamboyant gesture rejecting her entire social order…and neatly setting up a sequel.
The gorgeous cover, highly original premise, and dramatic climax can’t make up for tedious pacing and a muddled message. (Fantasy. 11-17)