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REVIEW:  The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts

REVIEW: The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts

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Dear Ms. Roberts,

My thriller kick continues, this time with one falling into the science fiction genre. I’ll be the first to admit that the science fiction is light in The Bodies We Wear, which is fine with me because I’m not in the mood for a rigorous read. Your book almost has a dystopian feel but I’m pleased to say that this isn’t a case of dystopian masquerading as an SF thriller. Publishers have tried that before, and it’s never worked.

In the near future, a drug called Heam reigns. Highly addictive, it has the effect of showing users a glimpse of a place many consider heaven. But it has some other side effects. People who overdose come back marked with a spider’s web over their chests. Thus marked, they’re ostracized by society — unable to complete an education, get an job, which in turn only encourages them to pursue their addiction.

Faye is a survivor of a Heam overdose, through no fault of her own. Her father was a Heam dealer and when things went wrong on his end, his boss went after Faye in retaliation. While Faye’s best friend died, she survived. Unfortunately, her mother kicked her out and eventually Faye was taken in by a former detective.

Driven by revenge against the men responsible for ruining her life and killing her best friend, Faye trains day in and day out in the hopes that one day she’ll be ready. Then one day she meets a guy named Chael, who seems strangely familiar and makes her begin to question her mission.

I thought this book had a promising concept. Even the beginning worked fine for me, but as it continued, I found myself frowning at various point. For example, the book makes a point of talking about how Heam is “so” dangerous, that in some countries, creating and distributing it results in the death penalty, not just a life sentence. This displayed an ignorance of international drug to me since many countries already have anti-drug trafficking laws and it is already an automatic death sentence. This is not actually a change.

Another thing that kept bothering me was the death of Faye’s best friend, Christian. Christian’s death is the primary impetus for her revenge quest. That’s fine. But she goes on and on about how Christian was the love of her life. This happened when she was 11. Now I’m willing to buy that you might meet your soulmate very young, but I’m not quite so willing to believe that you’ll recognize them as your soulmate until you’re at least in your teenaged years. It doesn’t seem like a big difference in years but I can buy this type of declaration in a 15- or 16-year old, not in an 11-year-old. I just couldn’t buy it as a motivation.

Chael’s true identity was not a surprise or a revelation. It was obvious very early on what was going on there, so I found it irritating that Faye took a huge chunk of the book to put the pieces together. Part of it is also that I didn’t like Chael at all as a love interest. He stalked Faye and he constantly came down hard on her mission. We all know how I feel about stories where random boys who come along and tell the girl they supposedly like that their way of doing things is wrong. You’ve known each other for 5 minutes, come on. And in particular, there are things he does later in the book, that take away Faye’s agency and choices, which made me unable to like him.

The Bodies We Wear isn’t entirely bad. I liked Faye’s experiences in school and wish we could have seen more of her trying to have a normal life in spite of the overdose stigma. I liked her attempts to help other overdose survivors. There are passages that I really loved:

“The bodies we wear,” he says. “They’re not the ones we always want. They get damaged. Used. It’s who we are on the inside that counts. The person waiting to jump free.”

or

The bodies we wear can only take so much damage. We wear them down and eventually they stop working. But I now know that who we are lives on, even without our bodies.

A lot of my dissatisfaction with The Bodies We Wear stems from mislaid expectations. I went in, thinking I’d get a revenge story. What I got was ultimately more of a meditation on life and death, what we do with the time we have and what happens after. I don’t want to spoil the ending but let me just say, if readers expect an HEA, that’s not what happens here. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

REVIEW: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

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Dear Ms. McGinnis,

Despite my weariness with the dystopian and post-apocalyptic genre, I liked your previous novel, Not a Drop to Drink. Even more refreshing was the fact that it appeared to be a standalone. It turns out I was wrong — In a Handful of Dust is the companion novel but I think both novels stand alone well on their own.

While Not a Drop to Drink focused on tough-as-nails Lynn, In a Handful of Dust tells the story of her sweeter, more hopeful charge, Lucy. Things have gone as well as can be expected considering the post-apocalyptic premise, and a little town has formed. The world will never return to what it once was, but things are good.

Alas, nothing lasts forever. A disease sweeps through their little civilization, striking down both young and old. The likely carrier for the disease is Lucy’s would-be suitor, Carter. Unfortunately, this means he has to leave or face the survivors’ wrath. Even more unfortunately, so does Lucy — she’s been in Carter’s company, so even though it’s unlikely that she’s the carrier, the chance is not 0%. And where Lucy goes, so does Lynn.

Together, the two women strike out west, to what once was California. There are rumors of desalination plants there. In a world where water is the most precious commodity, this seems miraculous. But the journey is rife with danger, and soon Lucy will have to face the truth — can she survive in a world without Lynn to protect her?

Like its predecessor, I enjoyed In a Handful of Dust because it takes the path of post-apocalyptic survival combined with a frontier sensibility. There are no nonsensical dystopian governments to overthrow. There is no angsty star-crossed romance, although it may seem like it at first glance. This is the coming-of-age story of a young woman in a world that will never return to what it once was.

Where the book falters for me is that I find Lynn to be a more interesting character than Lucy. I’m just fond of tough-as-nails women who get things done.

“I been trying to do better about killing people,” Lynn said. “Then fate puts you in my path.”

That said, I liked the fact that the narrative doesn’t elevate Lucy over Lynn or vice versa. Both women are seen as valid and worthwhile. Lucy regrets that she’ll never be as strong as Lynn, but Lynn tells her that she should never feel that way. Lynn is the way she is because she had to be. (Not a Drop to Drink details this.) Lucy represents a gentler (as can be expected) life, so she’s allowed to hope and dream for a better life.

Lucy and Lynn’s journey is an interesting one. It’s full of betrayal and risking to trust others when they should know better. Most of the time this doesn’t work out, but sometimes it does. I also like that as the journey continues, Lynn’s infallibility comes to an end and soon Lucy has to do a little growing up herself.

I know most readers are probably tired of post-apocalyptic books these days but if anyone is still up for it, I do recommend they give these books a try. They’re more about the female characters’ journey and the frontier adventure sensibility lends a surprising freshness. I do wish there’d been more survival adventure novels like this when the subgenre had been at its peak, but that’s the way things fall sometimes. B

My regards,
Jia

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