The pacing was slow at times and the end was a bit messy, almost a lead in to a sequel (that doesn’t exist), but I liked it way more than I thought I would.
Fun fact: the summary reveals a fact we don’t learn until 75% into the plot, and that’s super dumb.
Wren is a happy, kind of weirdly ditzy girl who lives in a perfect world. She loves Dot, who created everything, and wrote a sort of bible to live by- have fun! be nice to each other! everyone is equal!
It’s paradise where no one has any shame, no one feels hate, and everything is lovely. All they have to do is harvest Newfruit every day, and then the 100 people in Dot’s world can do whatever they’d like. Swimming, dancing, praying, horseback riding, and a lot of sex.
Of course, Wren has a couple hiccups going on she doesn’t talk to anyone about. Blurry vision. And then memories of another, impossible life. What is going on?!?!?? We, the reader, knows there’s a lot fishy about this world, so the mystery becomes figuring out exactly what.
I actually really liked Wren. She’s a good example of narrative voice, as it’s first person, and the narration falters and sounds like her voice. She’s bubbly, talkative, and quite bold- a nice change from the more shy YA characters. She’s also quite nice. The book’s voice changes as she does, too, becoming less ‘valley girl’ in its narration as Wren realizes something is wrong.
There is a romance, but it’s very slow, and I liked it enough. I still wouldn’t say I felt their connection, but Blaze and Wren start out not getting along- but they don’t hate each other either. Again, a refresh from the typical asshole love interests. Blaze still gets frustrated with Wren and her struggle to leave behind her belief in Dot, but he isn’t a total jerk about it.
Plus, for once, the girl was the one more interested in sex and physical stuff, while Blaze is very touch-adverse. At the end, they kiss and he rests his head on her shoulder, which is nice.
I love cults. Did you know? My other love, besides angels. I LOVE cults and weirdo religion, and liked Dot’s world. I think a lot of authors mess up cults by making them too evil, and what we see here is a nice balance. While everyone is very happy and free, they aren’t forced to follow stupid rules like NEVER BE SAD. One cult member begins to hallucinate and turns more violent, but this is still an evolution in the belief system that doesn’t deviate far from what I’d expect.
As in, the cult is pretty well done. I believed people brought in the circumstances they were would act like they did. Yay!
The world is also pretty nice- a sort of modern day garden of eden. It sounded quite pretty and pleasant.
WORLD 2: spoilers
The problems began when we left paradise. There were some earlier, such as the slow plot in the beginning, the fast pace once we meet The Boy, and then a gradual slowing after… but once we finally left paradise, about 80% in, the book gets weird.
Well, not weird. Just super messy. We finally get answers to various questions (what’s up with the butterflies? What is Dot? What is newfruit? Why are they all here and brainwashed?),but it’s done pretty fast. And more importantly, it’s done badly.
The truth, plainly, makes no sense. It turns out the 100 teens in Dot’s world signed up for this. They were all troubled youths whose parents/who themselves sought out a drug trial for a new drug called ‘Grace’. This trial period was sold as a free, relaxed vacation where they would have no worries, and would also let the Shepard corporation monitor the drug and its effects.
This…. is fine. Fine!! It’s not even technically ‘evil’, honestly. The book is smart in that it addresses it is better to face trauma head-on, but I’m okay with a free drug trial people consent to. What I’m not okay with is that Grace isn’t some strong SSRI. It’s literally a mind control drug, and even marketed as one.
Grace makes you full of love and faith for a god. It’s called Delusion Onset Therapy (DOT). I can see how religion can help depressed people out, but I don’t buy anyone would want a drug that literally makes you delusional. Wouldn’t that, y’know, ruin your active life? It’s fine in the fake eden garden, but for anyone trying to live in the real world, there’s too much to shake your ‘faith’ in DOT. Like, you know, the ads on TV that confirm DOT is fake.
I guess if you’re delusional that wouldn’t matter. But I can’t imagine anyone willingly going on that knowing the main point is you lose track of reality.
“Announcing a sexy new player set to shake things up. Grace – a fun, convenient and modern way to fill that aching spiritual void!”
A direct quote from the book. It just doesn’t track with, you know, humanity and our willingness to do things. Couldn’t they water the magic newfruit formula down a bit and, I don’t know, just make really effective SSRIs? It’s not like Grace seems to limit users emotions- though Wren and Blaze have a slight genetic immunity, even randos are able to express a range of emotions. They’re just usually happy. That’s a good antidepressant! Why the hell does it also have to make you believe in a fake god.
Listen, here’s my last thought on the issue: Grace could have just made users really, really happy, and that’s it. Dot was invented to smooth the memory loss by giving the test teens a set of rules and a simple moral code. When you extrapolate DOT into the real world- it’s unclear if the memory loss was newfruit induced or part of the study- it makes no sense.
-Wren’s best friend is a lesbian and we learn this like, by page three? That’s one of the fastest lesbians I’ve ever met. Also, she was really sweet and cool, though her characterization was a bit off by the end.
-This is a very sex positive book, but I’m unsure if it’s actually sex negative. Like, I was happy to see a main character who found sex fun and had no ill feelings about it. But then, because we understand the Grace study is ‘evil’, was I supposed to think it was horrible? Like was Wren and the others having TOO MUCH sex NOT IN RELATIONSHIPS because of the evils of this dot-world?
-There was nice diversity too in appearance, though it was at times vague. I think Blaze was black with long dreadlocks?
-This book accidently comes off as anti-religious, but I’m happy it was that and not the other way around. Wren’s religious crises is her big character arc, and by the end we hear a lot of disparaging things about religion. I feel like christian moms would complain, but again, happy it wasn’t like OOPS HERE THE REAL GOD, JESUS CHRIST!!!!
-Same thing as above on drugs. The book is great about trauma and accepting yourself and faults, but since Grace is a big evil drug, it almost feels like the message has an anti-drug twinge. Guys. I’d be dead without my meds. I hope Blaze and Wren get on some non-evil SSRIs.
-I liked seeing a story where the main character seriously screwed up in her past. It was worse than I thought it’d be! Her shock and fear from it all rang true. Similarly, I appreciated seeing a story where a man was the victim of sexual violence. It’s super rare, even if his story was a little too stereotypical (women can hurt men too!). I thought all that was handled really quite well.