A teenager works through her emotional turmoil while waiting to become a sacrificial offering to aliens in this sci-fi melodrama.
In the near future, Earth has been conquered by 9-foot-tall, telepathic, flying vulture-demons who swoop down and eviscerate people with their razor-sharp talons and beaks—neither bullets nor bird shot nor nuclear bombs slow them down. They call themselves the Over, in honor of the Übermensch figure lionized by the philosopher Nietzsche. The Over impose a peace treaty, allowing humans to run their own affairs as long as they deliver a yearly quota of teens to the demons’ “Summer Program.” This sleep-away/death camp features canoes and cabins but also armed guards, mean counselors, numbers instead of names, and mind-numbing group therapy/brainwashing sessions. It culminates with campers being assigned to 1) getting eaten by the Over, 2) getting impregnated by other teens many times and then getting eaten, or 3) becoming a “seed” in the parasitic Over reproductive cycle. Dragooned into the program, 14-year-old rebel Jordan Fontaine continues her habitual, sarcastic defiance of authority, flinging wisecracks at officious counselors; subtly fencing with Heaven Omalis, a beautiful, sympathetic human Liaison working for the Over; carving her name into her flesh; and finally making contact with a Resistance leader who wants her to undertake a mission against the feathered Overlords. “They’re winning because they are smarter, and they are smarter because we’ve let them dumb us down,” the leader says. Ingram (Eat Your Heart Out, 2015, etc.) gives a nightmarish twist to the familiar YA formula of teenagers facing martyrdom by an oppressive society. The Over, who mainly glare balefully at people, are a distant, ominous presence in a novel that is mostly about human relationships roiled by their demands. The atmosphere of adolescent angst develops around fraught conversations, from Jordan’s anguished exchanges with her parents to her sullen mouthing off in group therapy; the result feels like a mashup of The Hunger Games, “The Lottery,” Girl, Interrupted, and Auschwitz, with malevolent buzzards thrown in. It’s also a lesbian story: Jordan gravitates toward a first girl-love with a cabin mate but melts down when Heaven starts sexually teasing her. Heaven, meanwhile, has her own affair with mysterious stripper Marla Matheson. Jordan is a believable girl in an impossible situation; despite the pulpy elements, Ingram gives her story a realism and emotional depth that make the reader care about her protagonist’s fate.
An absorbing and poignant YA dystopian fantasy with a convincing heroine.