In a near feature Canada, an oppressive government is rounding up groups known as “The Others:” those in the LGBTQ+ community, BIPOC, and the disabled, and forcing them into work camps or executing them. Climate change has made resources scarce, and the uncertainty and fear has made room for a nation ruled by white supremacy on a mission to eradicate The Others through the Renovation. Our main character, Kay, is in hiding but soon must leave his hiding place to train for a revolution.
I had high hopes for this book. I love dystopian novels and this near-future world feels both familiar and eerily possible. I was definitely drawn to the characters. Kay, self-described as a “Queer Femme Jamaican Filipino man,” found meaning through drag performance. He fled his home from a deeply religious, homophobic mother, and found safety in the home of a friend and later in the arms of a kind and quiet man. I loved Kay’s flashbacks and felt a real emotional connection to him. Likewise, I enjoyed learning more about Liv, the woman who hid Kay in her home and a leader in the Resistance. She is forced to go undercover as the lover of a government official who was crucial to the Renovation. She’s incredibly brave, but is forced to do some truly horrid things to maintain the ruse. The secondary characters each get a moment to tell their story, and these flashbacks were absolutely my favorite part.
But, while I liked the characters, I really felt that this book was heavy-handed and completely lacking in nuance. The ideas are so pressing, so I can see why the author would eschew subtlety, but it ultimately led to an unsatisfying read that removed me from certain scenes. One glaring example of this is a lengthy conversation that the white characters had about how to be an ally. While important, this scene read more like a user manual on allyship for the reader rather than an authentic conversation between characters. The ending, too, felt overdone which was disappointing. I also found it strange that the author chose to denote characters who use they/them pronouns with an asterisk. I’ve read other books with characters who use they/them pronouns and never found it confusing enough to warrant an explanation, so the asterisks in this book feels unnecessary and odd. If you understand Hernandez’s reasoning for this, I would love to hear from you so I can learn!
Overall, I feel there were some strong, well-imagined ideas in this book that ultimately suffered from a lack of nuance. There are certainly some shining moments and characters in the story, and I think it is an important story to tell, but I personally think it could have done with a more critical editing eye.
Have you read this one? What’d you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!