By: Lauren McLaughlin
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 2011
Reviewed by: Amy Lignor
Review Date: October 2011
It will probably be a shock for readers to learn that a YA novel is about to come out that is, quite honestly, the next ‘1984.’
Somerton is a poor town; jobs have been lost since the second Great Depression when the Ponzi schemes and stock market crash left people homeless and helpless. In Somerton, however, they have found a new way of living life - they are what other people call a ‘trial city.’ Almost everywhere you turn in Somerton, there are small black balls (eyes) hanging from every street corner, café and in every classroom. These eyes were placed there by the Score Corporation, and they are there to watch, judge and keep score of all the students in the town. The score received is based on many things - intelligence, social abilities, and how the subject can adapt to ‘fit in’ and do well in their future endeavors. The eyes don’t actually hear words, they are set up to read lips, study facial expressions, body movements, emotions, etc. to make sure that you’re the “right” kind of person. For someone who has a high enough score, they will receive a free scholarship so that they can go on to college - the only way to do it because the parents are far too poor to further their child‘s education. If you are an “underscored” student, you will basically have the option of working in a mini-mart…or worse.
All ‘high scorers’ sit together at lunch, hang out together, and stay in their “socially correct” group. If they are seen talking with someone who is underscored THEY lose points and the chance at getting the scholarships.
In Somerton live two girls who have been best friends since they were little, and they made a pact that they would never give up their friendship no matter what happened with their scores. Imani is in the ‘90’s’ and has maintained her high score for a long time, but her best friend, Cady, has a very low score - and as she grows older and makes bad decisions, the score gets even lower.
One day, the day of the month when the Score Charts go up so that all the students can see what their current score is, everyone starts to act very odd around Imani. It seems that almost overnight her score fell from a 92 into the basement. Why? Because the ‘eye in the sky’ saw her talking to Cady, and her friend then went out and began to date someone with an even lower score. Simply because Imani was ‘spotted’ as her friend, all her hard work has been erased. She is now shunned by the 90’s group - with no hope of ever receiving her scholarship. Until…A teacher with tenure decides to offer a bright light at the end of the ‘underscored’ tunnel. There IS a scholarship, but in order to apply, a paper must be written that may just get Imani in even more trouble.
Linked to a boy who is smart, intoxicating, and rich (so he doesn’t have to worry about money for college); working as a spy in order to bring her score back up to the 90’s before graduation; and without her best friend - Imani is in a real mess.
There are significant questions that this book brings to the surface regarding ‘social groups’ and the way people are ‘placed’ into certain sectors of the world based on their actions, skin color, language, etc. Is this simply a new dystopian world that is a mirror image of the Nazi-regime? Or, is it actually exactly the path our country is currently headed down? One of the most amazing lines in this book is when the writer talks about loyalty as being a trait that people USED to think highly of - but no more. The writing is stupendous, the characters are flawless, and Miss McLaughlin has certainly made George Orwell very, very proud.
Quill Says: There’s nothing left to say but…READ THIS!