Thursday, May 23, 2013

For Darkness Shows Humanity

Our world is all about tinkering with Mother Nature. From our homes, to our energy use, to our crops, to the heart of what makes us human, we tinker in the name of science. But what will be the consequence of all that tinkering with DNA and the very code that makes us human? In Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars, the world has been changed irrevocably in the name of science.

When we began changing the genetic structure of our food, we didn't expect it would also change us. But genetic experiments on food created the Reduced: simple people who need to be taken care of in order for them to survive. This role was taken by the Luddites, a group of people who denounced all technology in favor of lives in agriculture on farms that gave the Reduced a purpose- to work the farms. Elliot North is the daughter of a Luddite and takes her role as caregiver to the Reduced very seriously... certainly more seriously than her greedy father and sister. The Reduced are content enough to do as they are told, but the Posts (Post-Reductionists or CORS, Children of the Reduced) are not. As time passes, the Reduced begin to have children who are no longer affected by the genetic changes. Posts are fully functional, and with that comes a resentment for being treated like slaves. Even though it is forbidden, many Posts begin to leave their estates. And without the Luddites' fear of technology, they also have the advantage of finding better, faster, more efficient ways to do things. And that is what has given them the edge against the Luddites, who can barely hang on to their livelihoods and their lifestyles.

Elliot knows the rules. She should have grafted new wheat that would produce more and faster, but she is the only one trying to keep the Posts and the Reduced fed. She doesn't live an easy life, but there is only one thing she yearns for. Kai. The Post boy she grew to know against all the rules of the classes. But he ran away to start a new life far away from the Luddite slavery. When Elliot desperately rents her grandfather's estate to a group of Post shipbuilders, the last person she expected to see was Kai, now known as Captain Malakai Wentworth. With the roles reversed and Elliot struggling to keep the estate alive and her charges fed, Kai's feelings of betrayal are barely hidden. But there is more to the story of these Posts with their fancy clothes and their new technology. And the answer might lie in something so unforgivable, so against the laws of nature, that Elliot could never look at Kai the same way again.

This was a really interesting dystopia. The horrors of the world were mostly generations in the past, so it was a surprisingly peaceful dystopia, despite the Luddite slavery of the Posts (the Reduced needed to be taken care of, and even if the Luddites took advantage of that, the Reduced could never have survived without them). But the class distinctions were so severe and rigid that the Luddites couldn't imagine considering a Post romantically even though they will take their money, wear their clothes, and secretly delight in their advanced technology. The story really got to the heart of laws and rules that are passed down for generations to a point where they are irrelevant but everyone follows them because "that is how it has always been". I am always trying to get my students to just care about something, and to fight for what they believe, but sometimes the path of least resistance is just easier. I loved that this story encouraged questioning things that are no longer relevant even if that means questioning the entire basis of society.

There was even more intrigue connected to our technology and how society had to completely reject it in order to survive. Especially the idea of genetically modifying our food. If I was reading this story with my students, I would do some real research into GMO food and encourage them to think about that information critically while we read the story. Elliot North was a young woman to be admired. She truly cared about her people, and when Kai questioned her responsibility to them, it was amazing to see the Posts from her own estate defend her vehemently. She is a character you can really get behind, and that made this book really special. The book wasn't slow, but it wasn't action packed either, so I would save it for an older, stronger reader. There is something beautiful about how this dystopia was written, which sounds like a contradiction of terms, but it really was. I am very excited to see where the story ends up, because I just can't get enough of Kai and Elliot!

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