REVIEW: Scored by Lauren McLaughlin

REVIEW: Scored by Lauren McLaughlin

Dear Ms. McLaughlin,

In the glutted world of YA dystopians, it can be hard to stand out. After all, how many variations of a grim future in which a teenager’s entire life is mapped out by a test can there be? But despite that, your novel reminded me that even the most tired plot can find new life through fresh execution.

Scored by Lauren McLaughlinIn Scored, towns all over the U.S. have agreed to take part of a program in which their children are “scored.” Based on an array of criteria, children are assigned numbers, which can rise or fall depending on their behaviors. A high score opens a new world of opportunity, but a low score means your options are limited at best.

Imani LeMonde doesn’t come from a rich family. It’s why her parents agreed for her and her younger brother to be scored. A high score means chances for them that normally would be impossible due to a lack of funds. One month from graduation, Imani is sitting pretty with a high score of 92.

Despite Imani’s high score, there are some things she’s not willing to give up — like her best friend, Cady, whose score is 71. If Imani and Cady followed the unspoken rules of teenage social groups, they wouldn’t even associate with one another. But they made a pact with each other when they were younger, and Imani intends to see it through the end. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? (Famous last words.)

As I mentioned elsewhere, if I’d known the protagonist of this book was biracial, I would have picked it up far sooner. I liked that Imani being biracial wasn’t made the issue of the book. It came up but in ways that were natural and not preachy. In fact, the book does a good job of implying a multicultural cast without hitting us over the head with it. It read natural, and I’m a big fan of that.

I also liked that Imani came from a lower class family. One of the things the book makes clear is that the “score” is meant to be the great equalizer. Of course, there’s a price to pay for that but it allows kids who don’t have the resources to get educations that they want and need. I loved that Imani wanted to become a marine biologist and that her desire to do so stemmed from her family of clam diggers and watching their livelihood dry up as the area gets overharvested and their clients leave for more posh towns.

What’s interesting is that not everyone is “scored.” True, the novel implies that it’s moving in that direction but we’re not there yet. This is that rare dystopian where we catch the beginning of the totalitarian regime. Because there’s a mix of scored and unscored at Imani’s school, there are interesting dynamics that play out.

One dynamic I liked was the relationship between Imani and Diego. Just as Imani is scored, Diego isn’t and he doesn’t need to be because his family is one of the richest in town. He doesn’t need to worry about a score to get him into college on a scholarship. His family’s money can take care of that all on its own. This difference comes to a head when they try to collaborate on an essay about the scoring system that could land the student who writes the winning essay a scholarship. Diego is entering for fun but Imani actually needs it, and this major difference plays out in a compelling way.

I also liked that this wasn’t a book where the girl meets the boy and they hold hands for the rest of the story. Imani has serious issues with Diego and it takes a lot of working out before they can reach an accord. That said, I really liked seeing Diego’s fascination with Imani. While the book is told from Imani’s POV (but in third person, not first), we get enough hints that he really likes her because she’s smart and challenging. Yes, he does make the mistakes you’d expect from a privileged, rich boy but there’s enough hints to infer he’ll work through that.

On the other hand, I thought the ending was rushed and abrupt. I can’t decide if there’s going to be a sequel or if that was intended. There are enough hints that there could be a sequel and given the series-happy nature of the YA dystopian subgenre, I wouldn’t be surprised, but it could also end here. As I mentioned earlier, this is the beginning of the dystopian society. I’m not completely sure I’d want to read a book about the rise of the oppressive regime.

While I went into this book expecting more of the same, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn’t. Even though I thought the conclusion was rushed, I liked this portrayal of a society where scores could mean opportunity or disaster. The protagonist and subtle touches of race and class were a bonus. B

My regards,
Jia

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