In a way, I did this to myself. I should know by now that I do not like, and have never liked, science fictiony retellings of fairy tales. There’s just something about it that feels very deeply weird. Magic is magic and science is science, and — and — you know? It feels jarring. So I was setting myself up for disappointment in this, my first attempt to discern whether all Candlewick authors are as good as Patrick Ness and Melina Marchetta.
(Also because Patrick Ness and Melina Marchetta are really awesome.)
Rose Fitzroy wakes up after sixty years in stasis to find that the whole world has changed. Humanity has been through plague and pain and terror, and everyone Rose ever knew — her mother and father, her boyfriend Xavier — is long dead. Rose herself is rolling in money and utterly isolated; though the grandson of one of her parents’ former colleagues befriends her, she still feels conspicuous and out of place at school. And an illegal robot Inferius* is on a mission to destroy her.
I read — unfortunately for this book! — another young adult novel over the summer in which the heroine is unreliable because she has been made to feel worthless and trouble by the adults in her life; and the heroine of that book, although she could perceive no value in herself, was still an interesting and dynamic protagonist. So I know now that this trick is an attainable one, and that Sheehan just does not know how to do it. When Rose does something insane that arises from believing herself worthless, it doesn’t feel earned. When she doesn’t tell her foster parents that she was attacked by a killer robot Inferius**, it’s supposed to illustrate, I guess, how little she values and trusts herself? And I get that Sheehan is trying to show that Rose has had a job done on her head. It’s just done with a broad brush.
So obviously I wished for a different protagonist. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I would have been happy with a different protagonist from this same book set in this same world. As I was reading, I felt like there was such a good book contained within this one and trying to get out. Rose makes friends with a cyborg guy*** called Otto, and his backstory? Should totally have been the front story. I’m going to tell it to you so you can support me on this:
Otto and his brothers and sisters are a genetic experiment; they are fully sentient beings, but as far as the government is concerned they’re objects. Many of them died when Otto was younger (this is an example of the genetic experiment’s failures). There are all these legal questions about their personhood in the world, and most of them are dead, etc. Then the girl who will legally own them when she reaches the age of 18 wakes up from sixty years in stasis, and Otto becomes friends with her.
I mean, that is the story.
Come on. That’s the story. I want to write that story. I’m sad that’s not the story Sheehan was interested in telling and that as a consequence I had to sit through so much of people in the story going “But Rose, you’re so great and caring!” and Rose going “No no! I’m not! I’m terrible! What? Great and caring? Me?”
(Social Sister and my mumsy are rolling their eyes all the way out of their heads right now, but I hope they find this parenthetical aside sufficient evidence of self-awareness on my part. I KNOW OKAY?)
Well, this post is just all over the place. This is what always happens when the thesis of my review is “I wish this had been a different book with a different protagonist/premise/themes to explore/all of the above.” The instinct to rearrange and fix what’s already in there is, one optimistically presumes, proof that I chose the right profession.
Everyone else has already read this book; their reviews here. Sorry I’m slow on the uptake.
*Not its official name
**Still not what it’s really called; but since we’re on the subject, can we can about how excited we are about J. K. Rowling’s new book coming out this month? YAY.
***Not what the book calls him but we have been living in this world, y’all. We know what a cyborg is.