Sunday, March 16, 2014

Almost Perfect Ruin

We all know that underneath even the most seemingly perfect utopia lies a hidden dystopia. At the very least, it is a false utopia. Lauren DeStefano starts her utopian series, The Internment Chronicles, with a Perfect Ruin

In Morgan's world on Internment, marriages are arranged, people listen to the will of the king, and no one gets too close to the edge. Attempting to go over the edge of Internment can result in death, if you are lucky. Jumpers who survived are scarred physically and emotionally from their attempts to leave Internment. Internment is a city high in the sky where the citizens aren't allowed to see the ground. Saved by the Gods in the sky, before Morgan's generation, Internment was created as an act of mercy. Now they must abide by the rules of Internment to keep life sustained and happy. That includes accepting your betrothal the king arranges, only having children when your number in the queue is called, and accepting all decisions by the government without complaint. This sounds easy enough, but there are always exceptions to the rules, like Morgan's sister-in-law Alice who accidentally got pregnant out of turn and was forced to lose the pregnancy. Or Morgan's brother Lex who tried to jump and suffers the consequences. Or Morgan's friend Pen who finds her betrothed completely insufferable. But Morgan is happy with her betrothal, and she never thought to question the decisions of the king, until she meets a murderer. 

Crime is unheard of on Internment, but when a young girl is murdered, her betrothed is blamed. Morgan's father, a patrolman, claims they have apprehended the boy, but Morgan has seen him around the city, hiding from everyone. Weirder still, she finds him with Amy, the dead girl's sister. Why would a little girl be hiding with and protecting the man who murdered her sister?  Convinced the boy, Judas, is innocent, she hides her encounters with him carefully, even from Basil, her betrothed. Morgan becomes the object of concern to the king's people, but she is careful to keep the secrets of her family. But in a city the size of Internment, it isn't easy to keep secrets. Or is it? 

I struggled with DeStefano's Wither series, so I was skeptical going into this story. I loved Wither, but then the series took a nosedive after the first book. When I started Perfect Ruin, I have to admit it felt a little slow and confusing at first. It is hard to weave a utopia, which we all know is bound to be flawed in the end, but you still want to it appear to be perfect on the surface. Lois Lowry did this effortlessly in The Giver, and honestly, DeStefano did a pretty good job too, but it felt a little forced at times. Not quite effortless. But not a bad attempt either! So while the story was a little slow at first, it quickly picked up and by the end, I was devouring the story. My biggest concern, however, is that The Internment Chronicles will follow the same Wither path and lose steam after a pretty good first book. Hopefully this series will benefit from the experience DeStefano gained from her first series. 

The concept of Internment was really fascinating, but there are some holes in its existence that I assume further books will clear up. I loved the utopian angle which was bound to have flaws, but still wasn't a full-fledged dystopia. It will rustle up some great conversations about what the "perfect society" really is. While Morgan wasn't an overtly strong female lead, she also didn't drink the king's Kool-Aid, so to speak. She was happy with her betrothal, but she saw the flaws in the system first hand. In our society, we have a knee-jerk, gut reaction against imposed life-altering decisions, like arranged marriage, so it was an interesting twist to see happy betrothals (Morgan and Basil) and marriages (Lex and Alice) come out of those arrangements. It was an interesting twist on something you won't expect to approve of. The beauty of this story for students is that it is a relatively clean story that can be read in book groups, individually, in class, etc. The story can be complex at times, so it is probably best for a student who can unravel the multiple layers of the society DeStefano created. And I desperately hope that amazing, passionate momentum from the end of the story continues into the sequel!

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