I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This book has a pretty decent premise to work with. The surface of the Earth has been contaminated and people have moved underground in order to survive. Even so, the people living underground have to be tested to make sure that they don’t get sick, and if they turn up “tainted” they disappear.
The main character, as well as pretty much everyone in the book, has dealt with losing many important people in her life. Finally, she wants to uncover what really happens to the people who are tainted.
It’s not bad. I was really curious to see where it would go, but two things majorly bogged down this book: Elle and forced romance. In a book where characters are being carted away to never come back, a lot of time is given to her romantic interests. I found myself pushing through those parts and waiting for it to get back to the actual story.
It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. She loves her best friend, but she can’t tell him she loves him, and she has no idea that he likes her even though it’s blatantly obvious (she’s also doesn’t think she’s pretty like the other girls, even though more than one guy is infatuated with her. To quote the book, “But with my large blue eyes, thick lashes and long brown hair they see me as cute, rather than hot.”).
At first I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but then the uglier side of forced romances reared its ugly head: jealousy, anger, possessiveness… Sebastian sees Elle with another man and he throws a tantrum. If a high school girl told me that a boy was acting like that around her, I wouldn’t find it romantic. I’d tell her to stay far away from him.
The other romantic interest is thirteen years older than her. I don’t remember if Elle’s exact age was mentioned, but she’s still a student. This is creepy. And to be honest, I don’t mind that she thinks he’s sexy. That wouldn’t be weird for someone her age to think that about an older man, but it makes him really, really creepy.
I’m not sure timelines added up. She talks about meeting Ryan a year before, and then talks about him disappearing for months at a time. And based on the brief meeting shown in the book, if that’s how their meetings go and then he leaves for months, how much time could she have spent with him total? Half an hour? And how did Sebastian come to the conclusion that she’s dating a man that she sees for a couple minutes every few months anyway?
The second thing that bogged down the book was Elle herself. She’s very negative towards most other characters.
In the beginning, she gets detention for not paying attention in class.
If I didn’t have this stupid detention, I’d already be on my way back home to see Quinn.
Why doesn’t she say anything about why she was distracted? Most people are empathetic, and if this is a common situation then it should be easy for her to explain with a simple, “I’m sorry, Ms. Matthews, I’ve been having a hard time concentrating because my friend is getting tested today.” Even later in the book it makes it clear that people are very understanding about this. She probably could have avoided detention easily if she just said something.
The first other girl who wants Sebastian’s attention is depicted horribly by Elle, and she didn’t even do anything. She just happened to talk to the guy that Elle likes. And this sort of bitterness towards side characters continues through the book. It’s very strange and nonsensical in places.
For example, when Chelsea is taken, Elle is upset that other other kids are gossiping and the other half are acting devastated even though they didn’t know Chelsea. Then, when Sebastian is taken, she’s upset that the other kids are all being sickeningly sweet to her. First: nothing they do makes Elle happy. If they gossip like normal, she’s mad. If they’re upset, she’s mad. If they try to be nice to the person who lost someone, she’s mad. Second, why are the side characters reacting so differently based on who was taken? Why are they nice when Sebastian is taken, and rude when Chelsea is taken?
Elle is absolutely clueless about obvious things. She has no idea why Sebastian gets upset when she talks to another guy. She sees Sebastian talking to Chelsea, and then Chelsea is taken and he’s upset, and she immediately jumps to the conclusion that they must have been dating. Why? This makes as much sense as Sebastian thinking that Elle is dating some guy she talks to for a couple minutes every few months.
Not only that, but this uncaring attitude towards other characters pops up in weird places and makes both of them seem unexpectedly cold. For example, again with Chelsea: Elle is mad that she thinks Sebastian is trying to find the “tainted” people because of Chelsea’s disappearance. Sebastian has to convince Elle that it’s not about Chelsea.
What did Chelsea ever do wrong? What would be so horrible about him wanting to find his friend? Why is Chelsea not worth finding? They basically have to agree that this character doesn’t matter for it to appease Elle and it’s just awful. I felt terrible for Chelsea, having two people sitting there discussing about how meaningless she is and how much they aren’t doing this to find her. It doesn’t reflect well on the main characters.
Elle has glimmers of hope throughout the book. At one point, another guy, Cam, is trying to get the attention of a girl he likes during a dance. Elle gets close to him and:
When I get to him I stand on my tiptoes to get close to his ear. ‘Just ask her to dance already!’ I yell loudly.
This is cute. This isn’t self-absorbed or forced. This is her genuinely being interested in helping someone else when she knows he has a crush.
Once his arms are around me I begin to cry. Like really, embarrassingly cry.
This is another part that I like, because it’s understandable. People don’t usually like to cry in front of other people, and most would probably be embarrassed if they had a breakdown in front of someone. I get this. This is a part of her character that I understand and want to see more of.
Unfortunately, that gets overshadowed by this Elle for most of the book:
Away from everyone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to lose your best friend.
I’m pretty sure every character in this book knows what that’s like.
It also takes her about 19 chapters to do anything proactive. Before that, other people have secret connections. Other people have theories. Other people have to push her into doing things, and she complains the whole way.
Chapter 20 and on the book picks up a lot. I liked these chapters and was interested in seeing what would happen.
There was another time that stuck out to me with Elle being oddly angry at people again:
I look at the boy’s face on the paper and then angrily shove the picture back into my pocket, not caring if it crinkles. The doctor had been supposed to help me, not get me thrown in remand.
The only thing the doctor did was tell her exactly what she wanted to know so that she could get tainted blood. Which she successfully did. It was her own fault that she got caught. He wasn’t involved with her break-in at all, and now she’s beating up the photo of his grandson? The message he desperately hoped that he might be able to pass on? Why? He didn’t do anything but help her!
But besides that, the last part of the book went pretty smoothly and kept me engaged. I wish the rest of this book had gone like that. In my opinion, Sebastian and Ryan could have been completely deleted and it could have been the Elle and Quinn show, and it would have been better. Nothing about the romance worked for me – both characters were uglier when it was the focus. Jealous, angry, possessive, snippy, mean, clueless, bitter… They didn’t become characters I wanted to root for or spend time with. It didn’t add to the story for me, either. The same story could have been told without Sebastian, and perhaps in a much more interesting way (imagine if Elle was the one making connections, learning how to play with her CommuCuff, deciding on her own to sneak into restricted areas…)
If you want to read a dystopian book and romances like these don’t bother you, then you may enjoy this book. People who have read my reviews probably know that I don’t like certain portrayals of romance. I would be interested in seeing what happens next – I just hope Sebastian doesn’t take over again.
I give it a 6/10.