Skinned by Robin Wasserman

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Skinned by Robin Wasserman

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Creepy, Bladerunneresque sci-fi which ponders the nature of the soul and the essence of life. It's overlaid with a glossy look at teenage interaction and the way we treat the poor. It sounds complicated but the various threads are elegantly drawn.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 1847385117

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Lia wakes up after an horrific car accident as a mech head. Her body was past saving and so her brain has been scanned, mapped, saved, and transferred into a machine designed to look and feel human. She'll live forever and she'll never feel pain again. Neither will she breathe, nor eat, nor sleep. She tries to return to her old life as a privileged rich girl with fashionable clothes, going to fashionable parties, hanging out on her fashionable zone on the network, and taking the most fashionable b-mods to enhance her moods. But her boyfriend rejects her. Then her friends. Even her family are distrustful.

The world, it seems, isn't keen on mech heads. And Lia's is not such a pleasant world. Ruined by climate change and nuclear war, most people are wage-slaves in corp towns or living an even worse Mad Max existence in the ruined cities. There are precious few people in Lia's social circle and it seems as though most of them are rejecting her. Thank heavens, then, for Auden, who is alone in defending her.

The various threads in Skinned are drawn together through the notion of other. Lia has become outcast in more than one way - while her biotic status is being questioned, she's also having to come to terms with her immediate social status; she's no longer an in-demand socialite and nobody cares what she's wearing or who she's dating. And then, of course, there's the whole swathe of others that Lia has never even considered - those outside her privileged zone altogether; the city dwellers and corp-town workers, the irradiated, the hungry, the experimented-upon.

Despite one's immediate sympathy for the catastrophe that has befallen the central character, one immediately realises that Lia isn't that nice a person. She's spoiled, superficial, selfish and egotistical. And to be honest, despite her existential agony, she doesn't improve a great deal through much of the book. It takes her a good time and quite a few punches before she even begins to see the error of her ways. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. But mostly, good and bad things happen to all sorts of people. And it's this ability to see outside oneself, this level of maturity, that Lia needs if she's to cope with her new identity as a mech head.

I'd hesitate to say I enjoyed Skinned because enjoyed isn't quite the right word. Its picture of the future is a rather depressing dystopia, Lia's struggles to come to terms with a life without life are really quite frightening, and it's direct enough for the reader to be unable to duck the difficult questions it asks. There's precious little heroism going on except for the lovely Auden. But it's a thoroughly absorbing book, drawing you in immediately and creating a completely credible world. The writing is punchy and immediate and it's going to appeal to a wide range of teenaged readers - the more superficial of sci-fi and horror fans will love it, but it will also meet the minds of introspective teens who like to think about existential issues.

It's the first in a trilogy, and I'll be very interested to see where it leads.

My thanks to the nice people at Simon & Schuster for sending the book.

Being by Kevin Brooks also explores the idea of a body that isn't exactly human, and is thoroughly chilling. Generation Dead by Daniel Waters has teenagers coming back from the dead, and while it replaces cyber bodies for resurrected ones, talks about similar teen relationships in eerily unfamiliar circumstances.

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