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Dystopia’s the New Black

Meghan reviews Garth Nix's Shade's Children , in which all the grownups have vanished and are replaced by the Overlords and a supercomputer that implements a sex lottery.

Dystopia’s the New Black

BOOK REPORT for Shade's Children by Garth Nix

BFF Charm: Mostly Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Pure Sci-Fi
Bonus Factors: The Matrix, 2001, Logan's Run, Heroes
Relationship Status: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

The Deal:

So this book actually came out in 1997 -- when I was still in high school! -- so it's not ACTUALLY a part of the new dystopia trend. And it's crazy, because there's a lot in here I've since seen in other dystopian YA books, and I guess it was just ahead of its time since I've never heard of it (even though I've read other Garth Nix stuff) and I picked it up on the $1 clearance rack at Half-Price Books. Anyway, it's some time in the nearish future, 15 years past The Change -- when everyone over the age of 14 simply vanished with no explanation or warning. Shortly after, all children were rounded up and put in dorms to be trained until they reached their 14th birthday. On this Sad Birthday, they get whisked away by the Overlords to the Meat Factory and their brains are cut out and placed into one of the Overlord's army creatures. A few children escape, and spend their days being hunted by the creatures or -- if they're lucky -- being protected by and helping Shade. Shade was a human scientist before The Change, and uploaded his personality into a computer to preserve it and try to protect the children and find a way to reverse The Change, but like all computers -- can he really be trusted? 4 of Shade's Children -- Ella, Drum, Ninde and the newest escapee, Gold-Eye -- have to find out, using their weird superhero-like change talents (Gold-Eye can see the very near future, Ninde can read minds, Ella can think objects into existence, Drum has wacky telekinesis).

BFF Charm: Mostly Yay

I really really liked Ella and Drum, and Ninde and Gold-Eye were ok. I liked Gold-Eye better than Ninde, but as the one who lived in the dorms the longest, he was the least developed of all the characters. Ella and Drum are both old enough to remember life before The Change, and they're experienced and tough and badass. Ninde's kind of a pain in the ass, always impetuous and impatient, but she does grow up a bit, and Gold-Eye's the rustic innocent. His total lack of English syntax gets annoying, and I'd like to have seen a little more exploration of his education as a human (gimme some of that coming of age stuff, Garth Nix!), but overall, I'd give my BFF charm to these 4. I'd DEFINITELY want them on my Ocean's 11.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Shade sets up a sex lottery for his children -- put your name in after taking the requisite education and birth control classes, and once every so often, you get matched up with someone for a couple of days of secksin'. Way to take all the romance out of it, Shade! Ninde and Gold-Eye are the same age and go through lots of near-death experiences together, and as we all learned from Val Kilmer in The Saint, that always leads to a desire to cling to life (through lovin'). But because Ninde and Gold-Eye aren't super developed characters, there's not much info on how they're feeling and what they're thinking about, so it's not all that swoony. I actually upped the scale because of Ella and Drum's doomed romance -- Drum was pumped full of steroids in the dorms and is completely castrated, so although he and Ella have this deep bond, there's nothing physical they can do about it.

Talky Talk: Pure Sci-Fi

Man, this book is ACTION PACKED. I mean, it never, ever lets up -- you go from one adrenaline rush to another (there's no time for introspection and feelings, y'all). I don't know how these kids lived 2 days -- I'd've been dead from a heart attack after about 2 hours. It's also very sci-fi, with goofy genetically engineered creatures with unpronouncable names like Myrmidons, and alternate dimensions, and I kept thinking about this game my cousin used to play called Battletech -- all the overlords seem to want is to play out large-scale wars with the creatures for a trophy. Kinda weird, and this book is pretty definitely hard-core sci-fi.

Bonus Factor: The Matrix

Using humans for spare parts! Robot computers! Alternate realities governed by (possibly) computers! A secret underground group of free people trying to take down the bad guys! Dude, and this was before The Matrix came out.

Bonus Factor: 2001

Computers with personality! Y'all, Shade totally goes all HAL 9000 for a while. Plus there are these creepy robot rats and spiders. Artificial intelligence is not something to play with, kids.

Bonus Factor: Logan's Run

There is no sanctuary ... There is no sanctuary ... This sci-fi cheesefest, with people being killed before they get old and some trying to escape the madness always comes to mind when I read books like this.

Bonus Factor: Heroes

Superpowers! Caused by radiation. I'd love to be able to make things appear by thinking about them, like Ella can.

Casting Call:

Robert Downey Jr as Shade

RDJ is perfect for the mad scientist Shade (the computer projects Shade as a hologram, so we do get to see a human figure). Plus, why not cast him whenever there's a chance?

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Drum

I know The Rock is like a billion years too old for Drum, and I would never in a million years normally cast this guy in anything, but he's the only actor I could think of who's HUGE enough to play Drum. Really.

Kristen Bell as Ella

Bell is perfect for Ella -- ice cold when she needs to be, serious, tough but in a wiry way (Kat Dennings and Eliza Dushku are just too ... buff? something for Ella).

I'd like to see someone unknown play Gold-Eye and Ninde, and while I had them pictured in my mind, no actors really fit.

Relationship Status: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

This book is the one I shoulda dated in high school but didn't, and now that I've met it it's too late. It just reminds me of other books I've seen over the last 10+ years, when it really should be the other way around. I can see it would have been a fun, exciting book back in the day, and still would be if I didn't have so many others to compare it to. Oh well -- shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.