Teens uncover their post-apocalyptic, dystopian society’s secret program that segregates those deemed inferior to use as game in rich men’s hunts.
An orphan nicknamed Book who’s grown up in an all-boys government-run camp discovers a strange new boy, near death, in the desert. Book befriends him and learns that after the boys graduate, they aren’t bussed away for leadership positions as promised—instead, they’re hunted by the rich as entertainment. Turns out they’re scapegoated Less Thans—a designation given to undesirable races, religious groups, political dissidents and a variety of other discriminatory categories. Alternate chapters break from Book’s first-person, past-tense narration for a third-person, present-tense account that follows Hope, who’s been running from government soldiers for years. She and her twin sister, Faith, are captured and brought to a girls’ facility specializing in twins for twisted medical experiments. Brought together by chance, Book and Hope feel an instant connection. That doesn’t stop them from making a weak love triangle with another character when small groups from each camp unite to escape certain extermination. Running for freedom, they face such perils as soldiers and wolves, but the most dangerous are the hunters, yielding scenes in which the teens use clever strategy to defend themselves against the better-equipped hunters. Isbell aims for inventive description but frequently fumbles, producing phrases like “anvil-shaped face.” Light worldbuilding leaves too many questions unanswered, paving the way for the sequel.
It’s an exciting concept, but the execution is for the most part mediocre. (Dystopian adventure. 13 & up)