Found via: Publisher's Weekly 1/18
I've been waiting a couple of months for this one to come in, so as soon as I got it, it jumped pretty high up in the ol' to be read pile. It has a great concept with a lot of potential it just never quite lives up to.
It's 2170 and humanity has nearly perfected the science of cloning. Clones are officially classified as not human and are governed by a strict set of rules that further establish their place in the world. Leanna is 13 and firmly believes in the hierarchy that places humans as "Firsts" and clones as "Seconds" - until she learns her mother is an extremist and/or abolitionist (depending on your point of view) with the Liberty Bell movement, and is subsequently arrested for treason.
Leanna is forced to run in order to evade the government forces, though she doesn't understand why the government is so interested in her. She's just a regular girl, isn't she?
Luckily Leanna's mother had planned ahead in case she was caught and has set up an elaborate safety network to help hide Leanna from the government. Leanna is determined to do what's right, and do everything she can to save her mother in the process, while learning more than she probably ever wanted to know about history, equality, and what makes us human.
Like I said above, I really wanted to like this one - but I almost put it down 10 pages in because the Publisher's Weekly reviewer and I have vastly different definitions of "preachy." Even for a middle grade book, the narrative felt overly simplified and like the authors were talking down to their audience. And then there's The Message, which boils down to Slavery Is Bad. Is that really a lesson that needs to be hammered home in this way in the 21st century? Maybe if the parallel were to a more insidious form of slavery like sex trafficking or child labor, but the explicit parallel is to pre-American-Civil-War slavery (Leanna is a run away slave in a virtual simulation at the start of the book, and she mentions Harriet Tubman several times as she grows from thinking of clones as tools to clones as people).
I almost gave up again at the end, when it seemed the authors totally messed up the workings of the Supreme Court. I don't pretend to be a legal expert, but generally cases only reach the Supreme Court through an appeal, and they don't call in witnesses in criminal cases (Wikipedia seems to back me up here). I find it unlikely that if the number of justices didn't change in 160 years, they would change the fundamentals of the the court's operations. Also a lawyer cites the Dred Scott Decision as precedent for treating clones as property, and despite the whole dystopian-like world the McKissack's built up, I just didn't see how the country would go back to thinking that was a good court case. Why'd I keep on pressing through? Because it was a slow day on the subway and it was either read this or stare off into space. I'll take reading every time.
Science fiction for teens is a subject near and dear to my heart - I wrote my senior thesis in college on science fiction and young adult literature, using Uglies as my case study. Science fiction has always been my preferred literary/TV/film genre. So to see it manhandled like this was disappointing, because the story is fundamentally sound, and there's some great action and character building for Leanna. But the tone and over-emphasis of the message kind of killed it for me. Looking for some great SF for the middle grade reader in your life? Check out the Golden Duck awards, which recognize excellence in children's/middle grade/YA science fiction. They also have a Good Books page which wins bonus points with me for being filled with Animorphs books for grades 5-6. Leave your middle grade science fiction recommendations in the comments!