This debut dystopia succeeds at suspense and tension but fails at moral complexity.
Vi lives in the beige Goodlands, where good people wear required “oatmeal-colored shirts” and, by prohibition, never hug or touch. But Vi does touch and kiss her boyfriend Zenn, and she crosses forbidden borders and unplugs herself from mandatory brainwashing transmissions. She explains early on that “Goodies are walking paper dolls, devoid of personality—and brains” while authoritarian Thinkers “do the thinking so regular people won’t have to.” Unlike speculative fiction that successfully questions whether eliminating wars and providing adequate food for everyone might be worth losing cultural freedoms, this tale manages neither nuance nor ambiguity. Vi escapes from prison with hottie rebel Jag and travels to seek asylum, pursued by Thinkers of unknown loyalty, slowly realizing that she and Jag can control others. They lie to each other constantly, their supposedly deep love reading like simple sexual chemistry. Vi’s voice is sarcastic—“we were in the park after dark (gasp!)”—with random bits of teen syrup (Jag has “blueberry eyes”). Revelations come hard and fast but don’t feel meaningful, due to thin worldbuilding and sketchy details; in this society, how could Vi possibly understand a concept like “rights”?
Moral subtlety loses out to breathless pacing; the ending is derivative of Scott Westerfeld’s superior Uglies (2005). (Science fiction. 14 & up)