Escape from Genopolis by T E Berry-Hart

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Escape from Genopolis by T E Berry-Hart

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A novel set in a world of genetic manipulation and environmental catastrophe in which two children attempt to rediscover what it means to be human. The world-building feels a little confused, but the narrative is stupendously strong and the characters attractive. A thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0439943109

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In a post-apocalyptic future, the citizens of Genopolis no longer know love, sorrow or pain. Excessive emotion is frowned upon. Life is calm, controlled, reserved. And it's all created by genetic manipulation. Outside the city's walls live the Naturals, passionate people - the true descendants of the human beings who caused environmental catastrophe. Naturals are demonised by the citizens of Genopolis - often harvested to replenish the gene pool. Inside the pharms of the city, children are cloned and sent out as servants and future - living - organ donors for the citizens. These are the Geminis. Arlo is a privileged citizen, training to be a doctor. Usha is a Gemini girl, happily serving her "Auntie". And when they both discover horrifying truths and secrets about themselves, their paths begin to converge.

I love the strong way in which children's books are engaging with these big issues of our time - particularly those here in Escape From Genopolis - genetic manipulation and climate change. They don't beat around the bush as so many books for adults do. They jump straight in. They lay it on the line. This is not to say that they merely simplify the issues for a younger audience; they do not. They're just honest and unafraid to ask the questions. This is what's happening, this is what might happen. What do you think? The lines of thinking these books are inspiring in children are as sophisticated as much of the discourse in adult circles, and often they go further still, examining the very essence of human nature in combination with these political, social, and environmental pressures.

Escape From Genopolis does all these things and with some style. It's a tense and unnerving book and very well-paced. I couldn't put it down. I don't generally like books that alternate between the viewpoints of two characters, but here it works wonderfully well, highlighting two very different aspects of Genopolis. There are the rich and privileged much as today, but even within this protected city, there is an underclass of people who are merely scratching by and who are kept under control by the same mass market tactics used on the poor in rich countries right now. The Naturals are other, demonised as terrorists and savages - which also does not escape current resonance. Plus ca change - not a simple point to put to young readers, but one they happily engage with.

Occasionally, the world-building gets a little bit confused. Sometimes one's picture of Genopolis as a city, a physical entity, loses coherence. There are a huge number of characters, some of whom you think are going to be significant to the plot, but they're suddenly dropped and this is a little irritating. I didn't realise until I'd finished reading that Arlo and Usha's story will continue in a further volume - so perhaps some of these characters will reappear and their significance will become apparent. Either way, I think it distracts a little from the story and as the book you're currently reading is the most important one - especially for children - I'd prefer to see fewer loose characters. These however, are relatively minor points in a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written book.

Highly recommended for all junior readers aged ten and above, particularly those interested in engaging with the big ideas of our day.

My thanks to the lovely people at Scholastic for sending the book.

If future catastrophe novels interest your child, they might also enjoy John Brindley's The Rule of Claw. You might also like to try Fearless by T E Berry-Hart.

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Magda said:

It's actually quite strange, to see all the subjects, themes and issues of grown-up thinking s-f from a while ago utilised now in the teen market. I do wonder what adult s-f is about now? Probably the same.

Jill replied:

I think it's got too close to actually happening, thus intimating it's off limits!