Struyk-Bonn’s debut offers a darkly hopeful take on the universal themes of family and identity.
Born with a cleft palate and exiled to the wilderness of an unnamed country for 15 years, Whisper has made a ragged family of her fellow outcasts, all of whom bear some disfigurement. Upon her mother’s death, her abusive father comes to claim her for a slave. With nothing but a violin, a veil, and the memories of her mother and makeshift family, Whisper discovers that she has a rudimentary power over the society that scorns her. Class and gender questions arise: Is the omnipresent SWINC corporation responsible for a rise in genetic defects? Why do disfigured boys remain in their villages? She soon lives hand to mouth as a busker for Purgatory Palace, a ribald community of misfits where the threat of prostitution or capture is never far. Whisper’s somewhat fairy-tale luck in finding benefactors—a fatherly music professor and a surgeon among them—is tempered by her literally brutal realization that she bridges two worlds and doesn’t belong completely in either. Thus, her dilemma is agonizing: If the surgeon could cure Whisper and her family, would she agree? The author’s vivid characterizations give this common trope urgency and nuance, and Whisper’s answer resonates with hard-won conviction.
A thoughtful dystopian drama. (Fiction. 13-18)