Duffy’s (To Never Know, 2016, etc.) sci-fi novel tells of a dystopian American future in which children are separated by gender soon after birth and kept from their parents for 22 years.
The rules of the current society were implemented in 2163 as population control. Until this change, many children were involved in criminal activity, and numerous colleges had shut down due to low enrollment. In the new order, kids are raised and educated away from their parents and never learn about the opposite sex, dating, or procreation until they’re allowed back into the “mixed” world, post-college. However, even in a system that demands perfection, Carolina and Kevin Parker’s child, Finn, stands out, as he thrives on competition. He later becomes a heralded mathematician with a good job in the mixed world, where he meets a woman, Angela, whom he considers his intellectual equal. But everything falls apart after the two marry and their son, Leonardo, is taken away at birth. Finn gets restless, divorces Angela, and becomes a teacher; when he finds that he can’t endure the separation from Leonardo, he decides to visit his son’s school to make contact with him. That’s illegal, and as a result, Finn and Angela are barred from ever seeing their child again. Soon, Finn finds out there’s more to the separation laws than the general public knows, and he finds himself banished, fighting to survive. The overall premise of Duffy’s story is intriguing, and it takes opportunities to dig into such topics as sexual politics, religion, freedom, and destiny. However, the prose is stale and the dialogue is stiff. When Finn proposes to Angela, for instance, he tells her, “My heart can’t beat without the thought of you passing my mind at least 10 times per heartbeat.” The worldbuilding also leaves something to be desired; for example, there’s no sense of who the leaders are, other than that they’re a rich, manipulative group. Also, readers don’t get to see how anyone else is affected by the society’s rules, other than Finn and his family members.
An ambitious story that winds up feeling hollow.