Sixteen-year-old Lyla lives in a bleak, controlling society where only the brightest and most favored students have a chance to go on to University. The rest are left to accept their lot and scrape by, or join the Red Fists, a criminal and highly dangerous rebel group. After a misstep, she is tattooed—Marked—as a criminal. Humiliated and all but ruined, she jumps when offered a chance at redemption. But it comes at a cost: betraying a childhood friend she has come to love, and risking her family’s future.
Both story and artwork— Graphic novel–style illustrations that give background on Lyla’s society— problem this suspenseful, multilayered story, perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld, Libba Bray, and Cecil Castellucci.
One of the really unpleasant times that mark the crossover to adulthood is a kind of triage of your future. You spend a lot of your childhood being told that you can do anything, and when it comes time to make those aspirations real, you find that you can’t have them. It turns out that your finances, or your test scores, or the needs of your family, or simple geography, or your health, or a moment of stupidity in your teens, suddenly close down your options. This book is about that claustrophobic time when you realize that you’ve been boxed in when you weren’t looking. The time when you realize you don’t have choices any more.
That is also a symptom of mental illness, the sense that your future is gone, and as such oh man I am so glad this one was YA. I had do do a fair bit of telling myself “this is YA. It’ll end okay. It’ll end okay. This is YA. It’ll end okay.” And it did. For a certain value of “okay”. It’s certainly not all peaches and cream, but it was emotionally okay, while still fitting aesthetically in a bleak world.
Cause that’s the second half of this particular transition to healthy adulthood, the ability to make choices. Sometimes it’s between one bad situation and another, but you make the choice and live with it. You make the choice you can live with.
The book starts with Lyla messing up. She goes from a single bright option for her future to no options. And I really, really appreciate how true to a lot of people’s experience that is. Faced with mind-numbing industrial work with a high probability of accidental death or joining a violent gang, she jumps at the option to turn informer for the local government. If she just does that, serves her time, she can get her future back. But then she realizes just how corrupt the local government is, and starts to see how little good the stuff they want her to do will serve. She’s agreed to something she’s started to believe is wrong, but her other options are bad or worse. Until she gets her feet underneath her and chooses—
Hah You didn’t think I was going to spoil the end, now did you? Go read your own copy. It’s not always FUN to read, but it’s well done.
Side Note: This one fits in the same kind of post-apocolypic fantasy genre that Megan Spooner’s Skylark trilogy does. I had some moments of confusion at first, but got my feet underneath me pretty fast.
Other Side Note: I got an e-arc of this one from net galley. There are graphic novel interludes in the finished product, but I only saw sketches. I look forward to seeing the finished ones.