4 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed for the Rocky Mountain Book Awards
This is a very short, dystopian novel by a Canadian author. Humanity has figured out a way to transfer sickness from one person to another, and now every sickness, from the common cold to polio, are used to punish criminals. Talia’s father is a political hopeful, running on a platform of harsher punishments for lawbreakers. Talia initially supports her father’s ambitions, after all her family was ripped apart years ago by her mother and sister’s violent murders, but when she saves a young girl from harm and starts to dig into the living conditions of the poor, her views slowly start to change.
The premise for this book was very good, but the plot itself was a very standard “protagonist finds out something about their dystopian society is not quite right and seeks to find it” style storyline. You know what is going to happen before it happens and nothing very surprising jumps out at you. That being said, I am reviewing this book for an award for grades 4-8 readers, so I would not expect the readers of this novel to be as well acquainted with the tropes and traditions of this genre as older readers.
The characters are not unique, with the romance being a very expected component of the book, but Talia’s relationship with her father and her guilt over the death of her mother and sister lend a bit of complexity to the characters. The class and racial tensions laid out in the book could lead to some fruitful discussions with younger readers. There are also some very interesting questions posed by the world described in this book around the purpose of punishing criminals (rehabilitation, deterrence, etc), when, if ever, weaponized diseases should be used, and how humane treatment of prisoners should be.
The one big unanswered question posed by this book is, given the technology that can suck a sickness out of a person’s body, where did the impetus come for putting it in criminals. The system they describe is like a kidney dialysis machine, with blood being fed through and sickness being stripped out of the blood, but it is never explained how society decided putting the sickness back into criminals was a good idea, which seems like a large point that should be addressed.
The premise largely carried this book, but it is a good enough premise and a short enough book that that worked. I enjoyed this as a quick, though-provoking read.