Malliane has been running from the law ever since her arsonist parents were sent to one of New Weald’s penal colonies. Four generations ago the Wealds conquered Malley’s country, Milea, colonizing it and oppressing native Mileans in ways reminiscent of white Europeans’ colonization of North America and oppression of Native Americans. Captured, Malley is sent to one of the national schools set up to convert Milean children into compliant, subservient citizens of New Weald. There, Malley is renamed Kem, forced to change her hairstyle and dress, and punished severely for speaking her mind. When she tries to encourage others to resist she succeeds only in getting her classmates in trouble. Malley is a sympathetic character, and her actions in the first half of the book are realistic and engaging. As the plot continues, however, it starts to crumble under the pressure of its own complexity. Representation of a deaf girl, Jey, is troubling: Jey’s lip-reading skills and the other girls’ sign language abilities seem far too proficient to be believed. Malley’s skin color is never described; races aren’t specifically named in this imagined world, though several girls are described as having brown skin and dark curly hair.
An intriguing premise that doesn’t quite carry through. (Fiction. 8-12)