Zander is a mutant. Not by choice. Westport made him this way; President Crowley made him this way.
The Wastelands are full of mutants like Zander and his younger sister Kensy. They’re victims of the Cleanse– a deadly gas that leaves its survivors deformed. Cast aside by the humans that live in Westport, they are forced to survive as best they can, half-starved and deprived of even the most basic education.
Yet, each year mutants are invited to compete in the Skid Track League. It’s a roller derby-style race with deadly consequences. Win, and you get your freedom. Lose, and you disappear from the face of the earth. When Zander and Kensy manage to get to Westport and form a team, they’ll discover that not all humans hate them. Maybe with the help of the Rebellion and some sympathizers, they’ll have a chance to get that coveted freedom– for all the mutants.
This is going to be a long review. I hope you’re buckled up for this one!
First of all, I love this genre. I’ve been reading dystopian for about as long as I can remember. I was a reading junkie when YA dystopian hit an all time high. I’ve read almost all the classics– Hunger Games, Uglies, The Giver, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc, etc, etc. It’s no secret that this is MY FAVORITE type of novel.
That being said, this is a wonderful example of dystopia! I would line this us beside Hunger Games with no shame at all. You’ve got all the general tropes– children competing against each other, two out-of-the-ordinary competitors, competitors joining together to beat the Man, unusual alliances, evil grown-ups. It’s all there and very well done.
Franz style is very simplistic but poetic, if that makes sense. His characters often quote their mother’s book, and it’s always done in a way that made me wonder if it was some obscure poet that I didn’t know about, lol. If you’ve read Caged, then you know how much I love poetry. I appreciate the constant tie-in of the abstract motivational quote. It’s just my style.
My one complaint about the style is actually kind of unordinary for me. This book is written in third person, present tense. I don’t know if I’m just not used to that combo or what, but it really caught me off guard and took some time to really get into. I write in first person, present, so I didn’t think it’d be that odd. It was, though! I wonder if Franz chose third/present for a reason… It’s probably waaaay too late to consider changing it, but it’s something to think about!
Phew, have we got an ENSEMBLE cast. Lol. That’s one thing I really didn’t enjoy throughout this book: the sheer number of characters that I had to keep track of. I eventually gave up. facepalm You’ve got all the mutants in Zander’s circle, and then in Lockstone, and then there’s the mutants competing in the League, the humans, the sympathizers, the Ten Percenters, the soldiers, deep breath the… I’m just kidding; I think that’s it. But man, there were a BUNCH. I’ll try to focus on just a few to save your eyes.
Let’s talk about Zander and Kensy. I can kill two birds with one stone! They’re both hardened characters. Zander is more of a realist and a pessimist. He doesn’t give up easily, and he’s loyal to his sister beyond all else. Kensy, on the other hand, is a bit of a dreamer and an optimist. They’re both so strong. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between them while keeping the similarities. I appreciate how brave they both were, especially towards the end. I’m annoyed that Zander lied to REDACTED at the end, but that’s also something I would write. Lol. It had me tearing up. And I also really, really liked that REDACTED was the one who tied together all of the mutants and sympathizers. #femaleempowerment LOL (Also, sorry to be so secretive, but those were both big spoilers, and you NEED to read this one!)
As far as the human sympathizers go, you’ve mainly got the focus on Rachel and Raulson. I was a bit confused about how old Rachel was, but I think I figured out she’s like… mid-twenties? Lol. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Another amazing strong female. She overcomes so much and fights an uphill battle. I was rooting for her from day 1. Raulson I kinda worried about. I didn’t know whether to trust him, and I was a bit suspicious at the end. I think he had a strong redemption arc, though! Kudos for that.
Now, the BADDIE– President Crowley. I really want to spit in his steak. I do. I want to grab him by the back of the head and just…. smash him into a table. We all know by now– I love a well-written villain. Crowley doesn’t even fit into the half-bad category. He’s all the way bad. Giving me HUGE President Snow vibes, and I’m here for it!
I’ve kind of already talked about the plot here and there. This is a long book, friends. We’re tapping 400 pages. She could weigh down a starving child, I’m sure. LOL
In my opinion, the plot actually started out kinda slow. I pushed through in the hopes that it would pick up– once the main group got to Westport. And man, did it ever pick up! At about the 25% point, when you get past all the exposition, everything falls into place and you’re in. Waiting for the next race, wondering what’s going to happen to Rachel, worrying about Fins and Rance… It’s one punch after another. Absolutely no complaints from me about ANY of the plot.
Well, one complaint. I reached out to the author with a concern about whether or not there was going to be a sequel. The end kind of threw me for a loop. I don’t know that it was necessary to kill REDACTED. It felt like a solid ending before that final chapter. All the ends were tied up except for Rance. The ending almost reads like a forced cliff-hanger.
I really, really enjoyed this book. It was very well-written and unfolded magnificently. I’m giving it a solid 8/10!