"I ALWAYS KNEW I WAS DIFFERENT."
I groaned out loud as I read the very first sentence of the narrative.
Davy is the picture perfect spoiled, pampered princess who is firmly ensconced in her fluffy, warm cocoon of a life. It took no less than the jaws of life to knock her off the fucking pedestal on which she has planted her throne.
This book suffers from two main things: one of the most unconvincing premises I have ever read in a book that aspires to be a dystopia, and a heroine with whom I found hard so sympathize due to her own overwhelming insistence that she is special. This book completely fails at explaining Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, which is completely ludicrous since it is the very backbone of the book, and the heroine is the most annoyingly perfect I have ever read. Boy slove her. Girls want to be her. She is wealthy. She is adored by family, friends, a miniture pillar of the community. Early acceptance to Juilliard? Boom. Perfect boyfriend? Boom.
I hate perfection. I completely loathe perfection. I cannot relate to perfection. If I wanted perfection, I would gaze upon Tom Hiddleson's face for eternity. I do not want to read about a perfect character. I do not want to hear a character emphasize, for the umpteenth time, that she is different, that she is special. We are all fucking special, get over it. This book is about DNA and how certain indications within a person's DNA foretells a person's homocidal tendencies.
Special, huh? Special DNA, eh?
Are you fucking kidding me?!
Anyone with the slightest piss of knowledge of DNA knows that DNA is what makes us unique. Unless you an identical twin, you are different. You are born different. There is nobody like you, like me, like your cousin's sister's best friend's ex-boyfriend. We are all fucking special, get the fuck over yourself. I do not want to hear it out of a character's mouth, and I particularly I do not want to keep hearing about it over and over and over and OVER as I read the damn book.
The sad part about this is that this is not even a terrible book, it was just mediocre. It underperformed. It did not live up to its potential. It had so much promise, especially in the character development, but overall, the character almost ruined it for me.
The Special Snowflake: I found it immensely hard to sympathize with our main character due to her tendency to label herself as a special snowflake. Davy, our heroine, is so perfect!
So utterly special, and damned if she doesn't remind us of its every opportunity she has. From the very first statement, she tells us that she is one in a million. She is singular. The very first sentence of the book's first person narrative is of Davy telling us how utterly different, how completely unique she is. Davy is fucking perfection in the form of a 17-year old wealthy, blonde, child prodigy.
I hate perfection. I want character. I want imperfection. I want anger, I want a heroine who is not merely book-smart, I want a character who thinks. I don't want a character who clings onto the vestige of her perfection the way a sorority girl clutches at her very last pair of Ugg boots at a clearance sale.
How is Davy special? Well, she has been distinguished almost since birth. A musical prodigy.
When I was three years old, I sat down at the piano and played Chopin. I don’t know where I heard it. I just knew how to place my fingers on the keys...how to make them move. Like one knows how to walk, it was just something I knew. Something I did.
Ok. I can accept that. But wait, that's not all! She can also sing like a motherfucking lark.
All my life I heard words like gifted. Extraordinary. Blessed. When everyone discovered I possessed a voice to rival my skills with an instrument, I was called a “prodigy.”
Yawn. Ok, so she's musically talented. That's still acceptable. WAIT, THAT'S NOT ALL? She's also brilliant.
"And as if being a music prodigy isn’t enough, when you were four years old you walked into my room and finished the puzzle that had been kicking my ass for the past week.”
Everyone knows she's special. From her parents.
“They know you’re special. That’s why they chose you. You’re not like the others—”
To the people who recruit her to train her to be in charge of killers. Out of all the people with the killer gene in the United States, Davy is chosen, one of only 10 girls, to lead. Why? Why Davy? What distinguishes her from the rest?
You have the breeding the other girls lack. Gentility, if you will...it’s important that you don’t lose that here. We’re going to train you to be tough...a skilled fighter.
Wait, what? WHAT? BREEDING? Her BREEDING? How the FUCK is that going to help her when she's dealing with a bunch of potential killers?! Oh, wait. She wasn't selected only for her breeding and gentility, whew. Davy's other immense talent which is going to help her when she's facing down a ton of kids who want to rip her throat out is going to be...her singing? Get the fuck out of here.
Mitchell cocks his head. “Why Davy?”
Stiles studies him a moment before answering, “Your sister was an exceptional student. A talented musician and singer."
Are you fucking kidding me?!
In the words of her own teammate...
The girl who beat up Skinny snorts and mutters beneath her breath, “A freakin’ Mary Poppins. Maybe she’ll sing for us.”
But wait, that's not all! She's also got the perfect boyfriend, the one who chose her above all other girls.
...every girl at school trips over herself when he bestows that smile on them.
But he chose me.
But wait, that's not all! She's also got the perfect love triangle alternate love interest, the one who chose her above all other girls.
The girls flank [Sean], talking, moving their hands animatedly with every word. They remind me of butterflies ready to launch into air. They’re so obvious in their attempts to impress this boy.
Always. Always. There are ALWAYS a million girls flocking and desiring the boys who fall for her, and inevitably, the boys are drawn to her like iron to a magnet.
Denial, It's Not Just A River In Egypt: Ok, so Davy's special, smart, beautiful, innately magnetic. That's annoying, yes, but that's not enough to make me hate her. What makes me dislike her is her insistence on emphasizing that she is different. The rules do not apply to her.
Davy is branded as having the Homicidal Tendencies Syndrome. She's aghast. It must be wrong. She is perfect. It cannot happen to her.
I press a hand to my chest. “I’ll never accept it.”
I understand that she needs to cling onto this belief, but she is so resistant to change and she is so unadaptable, that I could not like her. She is snobby. She thinks only of herself. She thinks of herself as the one sole exception, the one mistake in the testing. She hates the other kids who have similarly been labeled with HTC. She is accepting of this syndrome in others, but not within herself. It does not occur to her that others feel this way about themselves, too. She is closed-minded. Davy is selfish, she is incapable of thinking of anyone beyond herself.
I’m different. The exception. It’s arrogant thinking, but all I can cling to.
To her credit, Davy does grow up, but it is too little, too late, and it feels forced, like a politician deliberately trying to brand themselves down to relate to normal Average Joe.
The Setting: Is best summed up in one single gif.
Since the beginning of time, society have tried to identify criminals before they commit a crime. They have tried to predict the type of people who are more likely to be violent, killers, thieves. From phrenology to racism, these attempts have never been proven. DNA testing only goes so far. In order for me to buy this book's premise, the book had to have done a very good job of explaining how this whole Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS). It didn't.
I don't know how HTS was diagnosed. I don't know what in a human's DNA pinpoints this tendency. This book is as vaguely pseudo-science as they come. I don't know how society accepts the imprisonment and stigmatization of this syndrome in the future---and it is a near future---2021. HTS is in a person's DNA, so did all the murder and crimes in the past come from people who have had this syndrome? Nope. Book doesn't say. If it was a sudden onset, how was it explained, since this cannot be a mutation, happening so close to the future. How did all this state and federal legislation come in place? What about the societal impacts? Why were not more people outraged by the labeling and the imprisonment of their loved ones---and they are loved ones. Even current criminals have family, friends. In 2021, people who have never committed a crime gets labeled and suddenly everyone is OK with them being tossed into a facility and tattooed to indicate their capability for violence?
Fucking bullshit, that's what it is. The snippets of interviews and legislation and news in front of every chapters do absolutely nothing to make the scenario more convincing.
2021. If the book didn't mention the actual year, I would have no idea that it took place any time beyond 2014. There is no mention of clothes, there is no mention of technology. With the very, very rapid onset of technological changes, I expect to hear some sort of inventive science that would give me a good idea of a futuristic setting. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It could as easily have taken place tomorrow.
The Romance: The saving grace of this book. You will likely never hear me say that again. I found the romance convincing, and the love story mostly believable. The only character in this book that I liked is the love interest. He is complicated. He has had a tough-luck life. He is relatable, he is sympathetic. He is someone Davy should aspire to be.
A nothing who showed up here today when I needed someone most.
A nothing who marched into the bathroom when Brockman cornered me.
A nothing who picked me up when I was stranded and out past curfew.
“But you’re not nothing. If you’re saying you’re nothing, then...what does that make me?”
Dropping his arm, he turns and leaves my room. Only the echo of his voice stays behind, lingers on the air, in my head.
Quotes taken from an uncorrected galley subject to change in the final edition.