An outcast tries to figure out her place in a world that fears and desires her in this debut dystopian novel.
Elle—so named for the L-shaped scar on the back of her neck—is the lone Native American still living in the United States following a policy of expulsion. She lives in the Sylum, a nun-operated “Refuge for the Conflicted” in the middle of a wasteland, and can only remember the past six weeks. Elle struggles to make sense of the world around her, the disturbing dreams that haunt her, and the unusual, deadly powers she possesses. She’s already UA—Unethnically American, in the new parlance. Some people think she might also be a Soup, or superhuman, though that wouldn’t be any better: “Whispers that told me all I needed to know about how people viewed those powerful beings. All I knew was everyone feared and hated ’em. I may be the only native left in America, and considered UA, but those Soups looked down on all humanity.” Elle seems destined to bring about some sort of apocalypse—the only word she uttered when she was found six weeks ago. The key question is: an apocalypse for whom? Mitchell appears to intend the book to be a satire along the lines of A Clockwork Orange, and the dystopia he creates is quite believable. Elle speaks in a dialect out of Mark Twain, which is perhaps supposed to highlight her lack of education but will mostly just make readers uncomfortable: “I got a pair of bony elbows kickin’ out like the hind legs of a brayin’, buck-eyed mule, and swelterin’ arm flab quiverin’ under these shirt sleeves.” The n-word appears frequently and is used by Elle to refer to African American characters (including one named Jemima). The fact that the protagonist eventually learns that the word is offensive does not really justify its gratuitous use. Readers will leave the book with a sense that the author—a Brit—does not have a complete handle on the nuances of race in America. His satire of it, at least, misses the mark quite widely.
A purposefully (and sometimes unintentionally) disturbing tale with a Native American protagonist and political undertones.