In this debut series opener set 20 years in the future, teens identified as future criminals are exiled to "the wheel," a remote island wilderness (metaphorical and real) where few live past 18.
Alenna, 16, the demure orphanage-raised child of political dissidents, is shocked to awaken there. Her savvier fellow new arrival is quickly captured by drones serving the mysterious Monk; luckier Alenna is rescued by Gadya, whose gentler tribe welcomes her. The girls bond, although Alenna’s blossoming relationship with Liam, Gadya’s ex, troubles the waters. Besides battling drones, the tribe tends kids who’ve fallen puzzlingly ill and hatches desperate plans to hijack an aircraft from the mysterious gray zone. Sketchy worldbuilding is a deficit. The United Northern Alliance—the United States, Canada and Mexico, fused—has imposed efficient totalitarian rule with breathtaking speed. As in most dystopias for teens, it’s not the state, but the private sector that’s withered away. Alenna’s passivity around Liam, trite observations on personal growth and girl talk with Gadya about dating and popularity seem bizarrely borrowed from another genre. Hang in there—when the action moves to the eerie gray zone, the plot gains traction and suspense builds. Here the girls must depend on themselves—not Liam—to survive.
Mostly generic, but flashes of originality raise expectations for future installments. (Dystopian romance. 12 & up)