In this thriller, a genetically modified girl known as a pet realizes that she and others like her won’t truly be free until they topple the company that created them.
Sixteen-year-old Ella was born in a lab, part of NuPet, a company that sells female companions that aren’t even considered human. Ella is free from former owner Congressman John Kimble but remains confined with other pets at a Canadian refugee center. She escapes the center to reunite with her love, Penn—the congressman’s son—and gets help from fellow liberated pet Missy. On their way to Connecticut, the girls stop by black markets, where free agent pets can find jobs. It’s there that Ella sees the horrible things pets have to do for men. She still wants to return to Penn but now plans to find damaging evidence against NuPet. She and Missy, however, are not prepared for what awaits them at one of the company’s kennels. The novel impressively builds momentum, constantly advancing the story with a number of anticipatory sequences. Readers, for example, won’t know what to expect once the girls reach the black market in Buffalo or when Ella climbs a trellis for access to a bedroom window at Kimble’s home. The kennel that Ella and Missy eventually infiltrate is also appropriately disturbing, filled with atrocities and an ominous “red door” where the worst, presumably, happens. Distrust becomes an ever present concern, from Seth, apparently accommodating but still a black market employee, to Missy, whose reason for coming to Ella’s aid isn’t exactly clear. The notion of men objectifying women remains unambiguous, but Birch (Perfected, 2015, etc.) touches upon other themes with subtlety and without partisanship, issues such as artificial insemination and abortion. Though Ella’s yearning to see Penn again is sentimental, the author fills her pages with spirited details from the girl’s memory: Penn “was the taste of chocolate on my lips. He was sweetness. He was heat.” The novel, the second in a series, sets up another sequel while managing to wrap up everything satisfactorily—but not before a few surprises.Rousing and romantic; a fast-paced dystopian sequel with a distinctive heroine.