In this YA sci-fi debut and the start of a series, a teen receives an unexpected ranking in a distant future, leading her to question the system’s fairness.
Numbering Day has arrived for 13-year-old Evalene Vandereth. Any citizen of the post-World War III country Eden would be elated to rank six or lower, a Number Evalene fully anticipates, because her father’s a four. So she’s understandably confounded by the 29 she receives, placing her in a precarious situation. Questioning the system, implemented years ago by the mysterious Number One, is forbidden, but Evalene wonders whether her ranking stems from her mother’s involvement in the Bloom Rebellion, helping high-Number refugees escape Eden. After five years of servitude in her largely indifferent father’s household, Evalene flees Eden with fellow high Number Kevra Greene. Other nations have been ravaged by war and disease, according to classes in Eden, but Number-free countries do exist, including the island of Hofyn. That’s where Evalene and other escapees go, led by a man named Jeremiah. Thousands of people live independently in Hofyn, but Jeremiah wants them to storm Eden and expose corruption—including by Number One, who professes that God grants the Numbers. This will surely entail a war, and Evalene must decide if she’ll join the fight. Atazadeh’s adept series opener builds a laudable dystopian world through the eyes of the young protagonist. Some vivid chapters center on Jeremiah, but the author wisely keeps the spotlight on Evalene and her mostly internal struggle: she can’t help but measure her own value by her assigned Number. Despite hints of Christianity, the religious overtones are generally broad; being a “true believer” like Jeremiah, for example, isn’t the goal but merely indicative of resisting oppression. The unembellished prose, meanwhile, gives touches of inspiration a divine simplicity: “Faith is a choice.” Nevertheless, while Evalene certainly endures menaces (under the thumb of resentful housekeeper Daeva), others’ plights are more harrowing (Kevra’s tormented by a lecherous boss).
A rigorous apocalyptic backdrop and versatile characters supply seemingly endless avenues for further volumes to explore.