Kayla is a GEN, a tankborn person whose purpose is to serve others. While in the tank, their DNA is sliced with DNA from animals granting a skill set (known as sket) that will prove useful once they hit sixteen and are given their permanent work assignment. They have no parents and are placed in homes with "nurture mothers/fathers" who are GENs who have been programmed to have parental instincts.
GENs are treated worse than animals and subject to the whims of the trueborns (high status humans) and the brigade that serves as law enforcement. They have few rights and tolerate aggression and violence from humans, making them live in a constant state of fear. After turning sixteen and receiving her assignment, Kayla is thrust into a world where she learns that not all things are as they seem, and she soon finds herself involved in something much bigger that herself.
This is the first book in the Tankborn series. It'd been on my "to-be-read" pile, but I pushed it to the top of the queue because I'd been approved to review the second book in the series titled Awakening. I don't like jumping to a later book in a series if it can be helped. I like to have context, so I bought the first book and went to work. This review, and the review for Awakening, should've been finished sooner, but life happens.
This was a bit of a hard story for me to read. No, it wasn't terribly written or even as dark as many books I read, but I didn't expect the intensity of the prejudices presented in this book, especially in regards to hair/skin/eye color. The strong disparities between the humans and "non-humans, " and even the dynamics between the different classes of humans, hit you in the face from the first page. I could feel myself becoming critical and over thinking every line. It's a knee-jerk reaction to topics that touch on sensitive issues that we deal with every day. I really expected just a straightforward humans versus "non-humans" deal, and I could see that wasn't going to happen.
The beginning made me pause a bit to ask myself whether I wanted to continue this or not. I've been burned by so many authors who try to broach these prejudices and fail miserably, often either simplifying the issue to the point that it's obvious they don't understand the dynamics at work or taking the role of apologist for the oppressors and trying to get readers to "understand" that they don't understand the root of their hate and we should pity them more than dislike them. And quite frankly, I wasn't here for this drama if that was the way it was going to be. So, I did skim a few reviews to see what thoughts popped up with readers in regards to these aspects of the story. Most seemed to think it was handled properly, so I soldiered on and hoped for the best.
The characters in Sandler's world live in a very strict society whose rules are based on an amalgam of the caste system and slavery complete with its own underground railroad of sorts. Trueborns are at the top of hierarchy and GENs are the lowest on the ladder with varying degrees (such as demiborn, lowborn, etc.) between them. GENs are the only "non-humans" because of the animal DNA used in their creation. Trueborns believe that GENs only want that makes them happy, preferring this ignorant illusion to the reality in front of them.
Kayla is already an anomaly in many ways even before getting involved in political intrigue. First, her GEN tattoo is on the wrong side of her face. Secondly, her arms are mottled in color, as if the doctors who created her were careless. Her sket is super strength, but she's sometimes clumsy because she can't always compensate for her weaker lower body, and lastly, she begins experiencing something she shouldn't as a GEN. While the GEN religious edict dictates that serving is the GENs' priority, Kayla struggles with the idea that her only purpose it to serve and suffer while her true reward will come after her death.
This is one of those books where I spend the majority of my time worrying about the main characters, especially Kayla who has so much more to fear than some of the other characters. This is one of those books where everyone looks like the enemy. It's hard to relax because you're just waiting for something terrible to happen as the characters set forth a plan that will change their whole world and everything they believe.
I can't help liking Kayla. Even though she lives in a world that expects her to be silent, she rebels against the notion that she's a stupid animal that should be pushed around. I like that, even though we know she has super strength, that doesn't take away the fragility of the character. She's still a teenage girl doing the best she can in her situation. Her strength doesn't suddenly make her Wonder Woman. She still has her fears, her wants, and her needs.
I have mixed feelings about the romance. On one hand, I thought it was sweet in a star-crossed lovers sort of way. On the other hand, sometimes, it felt a little out place as if Sandler just stuck it in there because people expect young adult stories to have romance. I'll see where she takes this with the next book before making a final decision.
Also, I expected a little more description of the planet. I couldn't really get a visual of the world Kayla lived in. There were wonderful descriptions of some of the wildlife, but not much of the actual scenery. My mind settled on generic locales found here on earth that seemed like they might be on her planet. I'm not quite sure why humans left earth, though and maybe it isn't important beyond the fact that they left.
Despite some small complaints, I enjoyed this book.