Author: Shannon Stoker
Genre: Fiction (Future / Dystopia / Sexual Slavery / Teen Brides / Runaway)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (6/11/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did not.
One-sentence summary: In a future United States where women are sold into marriage, a young bride realizes the greater world doesn't support this trade and escapes to find freedom and truth.
Do I like the cover?: It's fine.
First line: Pretty.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, I guess -- you can check out a few chapters via this sampler.
Why did I get this book?: I like a dystopia now and then.
Review: Alas, this book wasn't for me, and I quit about one hundred pages in. While a unique premise, I wasn't sucked in for a few reasons.
Set sometime in the future, the US as we know it is gone. Instead, it is a series of regions dominated by, essentially, government-endorsed sex trafficking. At age 18, women are placed into the 'Registry', a federal program that allows men to buy the wife of their dreams. Daughters are favored, rather than sons (in the opening, we learn women are essentially killed if they have sons), and for some families, daughters provide the sole source of income. The government gets a percentage of their sale. The most profitable women are those who are pretty, demure, and stupid.
Stoker's writing is very straight-forward, very tell in style, and she moves briskly and pragmatically from scene to scene. This isn't my preferred writing style so I found it tiresome, but it does mean those who want a very beach-y read that isn't taxing might find this one easy to breeze through. Stoker doesn't dawdle, either: she opens with an emotional scene and rockets straight into the drama.
I found the characters, sadly, a bit flat, perhaps because there was no chance to know them before we're mired in transformative drama. Mia, our stunningly gorgeous heroine who garners the highest bride price in the history of ever, abruptly changes her mind about marrying after one (albeit traumatic) incident. From there, she goes from 0 to sixty in a page. She's thoughtless and impulsive and, well, kind of stupid, which fits the world Stoker has created -- Mia received virtually no education -- but at the same time, she learns in leaps and bounds once she decides to rebel.
Mia's flash decision to bail on her marriage is helped by the fact that the man who buys her is a sadistic hunter with secret government connections, a kind of mix between Atherton Wing and those blue-gloved men from Firefly. Then there's Andrew, a farmhand for Mia's father and one of the points in a presumable love triangle, beefy and handsome and dedicated to becoming the perfect soldier/man so he can buy himself a perfect wife. (We know he's good because he gets very upset when Mia's husband-to-be is rude to her.)
I found the world-building to be as flimsy as the characters, unfortunately. I didn't read far enough to learn just how long the Registry was in existence, but it was clearly long enough for at least one generation to be raised this way, if not more, and yet there were enough vestiges of 20th century culture remaining that felt arbitrary. The biggest one was the fact that Stoker's US waits for women to turn 18 before selling them. But why? The federal age of majority is 18 but legal consent can vary by state. Many cultures around the world use menstruation as an indication of womanhood while some religious traditions offer an age (which isn't 18). If we're living in a world that sells women for their looks and their sex, then tell me how the world changes in their attitudes about women -- because I guarantee that world doesn't politely wait until women are 18 to start selling them into marriage.
I'm super stunned to see this marketed as an adult novel -- I agreed to review it because I thought it'd be more in a Margaret Atwood vein -- but what I read felt very YA to me. (Is this the much vaunted New Adult genre I've been hearing about?)
If you're curious, few chapters are available via this sampler. Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour as well as GoodReads -- there are some bloggers who love this one, and it gets a ringing cover blurb from Jennifer L. Armentrout, so it might just be me!