Ariana Skyee, 17, lives on Novo, an outpost of Earth under construction since the 1960’s to help ensure survival after “disaster upon disaster wreaked havoc on Earth . . . making it largely uninhabitable….”
Ari, her parents, and her younger siblings, Lily, 14, and Deacon, 10, live in Region 2, one of fifteen regions on this new replica of Earth. Ari’s father is a Level 1 Commander of the Army on Novo, and Ari, always a “daddy’s girl,” attends the military training academy. One of her classmates is Cal Remus, a good-looking but seemingly arrogant guy who is always teasing Ari and who is also the child of a Level 1 military commander.
Three months prior to the start of this story, the government of Novo announced a new policy, “The Calling,” in which participation is required for all who reach age seventeen. The teens go through testing, get assessed, and are assigned potential suitors. At the end of a publicly televised courting period, they must choose one of the suitors, get married, and start having children – at least three by the time they are aged twenty-two. The goal is to increase the population of Novo. As might be expected, Ari and Cal find they are on one another’s list of top ten suitors, and Ari decides, on the basis of physical attraction, she might love Cal instead of hating him.
But the public pageantry doesn’t end with the pairing up of each of the teens. The final couples from each Region are then required to “compete” with the other winning couples in various categories. To help make the process more appealing, each contestant is assigned a “pageant coordinator” and has a number of beautification procedures and dress fittings scheduled.
The victorious couple is named “Novo Silentium,” a PR job entailing official duties and blissful support of the government.
Zolt Rada, Operations Director for the pageant, ominously notifies Ari that he will be keeping an eye on her, and she doesn’t really understand why. But her father has confided in her that there is a rebellion brewing, and that there are dissenting “factions” arising. It is also true that Ari keeps having dreams about and even messages from a boy named Zane. She doesn’t know who he is, but he keeps warning her to be careful. Oddly, both her father and Zane caution Ari to stay away from Cal, but she thinks they just don’t know him, and their objections only drive her increased devotion and loyalty to Cal.
In Part Two, the narrative switches over to the point of view of Zane, and we learn a great deal more about what is really going on back on Earth, where Zane has been left behind because of a heart ailment (only the physically perfect got selected for Novo). By the time Part Three takes us back to Ariana, Zane, and Cal, Novo seems to be falling apart, and Katniss is trying to avoid choosing between Peeta and Gale. No, wait! I mean, Cassia is trying to avoid choosing between Ky and Xander. Wait, I mean, Tris has chosen a faction and…. Well, you get the idea.
Evaluation: This is one of the most derivative books I have ever encountered. At first I thought it was going to be a rehash mainly of Matched, but the similarities to The Hunger Games quickly overwhelm any other referents. Now, truly, it’s pretty hard to come up with a totally original plot, and it must be tempting to riff on good ideas already out there (shown, for example, by the popularity of fanfiction). But I think the quality of prose in this book just doesn’t make up for the closeness the plot bears to other successful stories. The writing is uninspiring, and the “evil” characters are absolutely without nuance. The onslaught of tired YA dystopian tropes is overwhelming. Do I care enough about the characters to continue on with Book Two? I would have to say no. Nice cover, though!
However, I seem to be in the minority on this one. The ratings on Goodreads are ecstatic.
Published by Siobhan Davis, 2014