In North’s debut YA novel set in a violently divided, high-tech New York City, a poor girl enrolls in a Manhattan school that serves as an enclave for the fabulously rich, powerful, and dangerous.
An “Orderist” movement has given privilege and rank to those said to have the most “merit,” which include America’s wealthiest people. This state of affairs made California secede from the Union to become a rogue state; meanwhile, Manhattan, the new capital of the remaining 49, is a paradise of affluence for its chosen elite, with such fabulous luxuries as gene enhancements, gated communities, guardian drones, and self-driving taxis. The Bronx, meanwhile, is wretched, drug-ridden, and plague-filled. It’s also home to Daniela Machado, a fierce girl with phenomenal high school grades and impressive stats in track and field. She’s driven by a single-minded aim to attend a local medical school and fight “the Waste,” a mysterious, eventually fatal malady that’s slowly overtaking her political-agitator brother, Mateo. Unexpectedly, Daniela is granted a one-in-a-million chance to attend the Tuck School, a Manhattan academy for the best of the so-called “highborn.” She’s suspicious of the faculty’s motives and of the uber-handsome classmates around her, some of whom are friendly and welcoming, others not. She soon finds out that her predecessor apparently committed suicide, and she gets drawn into intrigue at the highest levels. There’s no shortage of YA sci-fi yarns that focus on the gap between haves and have-nots. But North’s entry is superlative, and his well-rendered setting is a more interesting conceit than Suzanne Collins’ similar Panem in The Hunger Games. Ultimately, what starts out as sort of a fish-out-of-water drama with sci-fi trappings becomes the story of a veritable clash of superbeings, but North maintains expert control over it, much as J.K. Rowling did in her Harry Potter sagas. The action scenes are deftly handled, as are the depictions of compelling, smart, multicultural characters. The background philosophy behind the Orderists also has a sinister verisimilitude (Aldous Huxley is cited, although Ayn Rand, curiously, is not). Both YA and adult readers will be transfixed by this novel, which works well as both a stand-alone and as a series opener.
A promising debut that re-energizes tropes in the dystopian sci-fi genre.