Lifegame by Alison Allen-Gray

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Lifegame by Alison Allen-Gray

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A hugely thought-provoking book set in an alternate future dystopia and asking some very topical questions about genetic science. The characterisation is superb, and the plot will keep them guessing right up to the reveal. I loved this book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2009
Publisher: OUP Oxford
ISBN: 0192728431

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Fella and Grebe live on the Island State. It's a young country; created by the fleeing survivors of a bio-chemical attack on the Downzone, the island's nearest landmass. The Island's citizens are isolated and alone because the attack not only devastated the Downzone, but the oceans too. It's an authoritarian society, with lots of surveillance, and people are graded ruthlessly. Grades mean possessions and if you want a speedcar, you'd better make the right grade. Books don't exist. The landscape is bleak and urban. And mostly deserted. It's best not to get noticed by an Officiate Guard.

But all his life, Fella has known that something's not right. He lives in Papa Louis's orphanage as his mother died in a car crash when he was just a baby. But when Papa Louis tells Fella that he believes his mother was murdered, and gives him her diary - written in a book, in pen, Fella's suspicions are proved right...

The publicity tagline for Lifegame goes like this:

Imagine that everything you have ever known is a lie. How far would you go to find the truth?

It's a frightening thought, isn't it? I'd like to say that I'd go to the ends of the Earth to find out the truth, but I doubt that I'd have the courage. But Allen-Grey's two tremendously likeable creations, Fella and Grebe, have much more courage than I. They are very different people - Fella, the orphan, is desperate to find out about his mother and how he came to be. He needs some sense of self and origin before he can feel whole. This makes him impulsive and reckless at times, but he is deeply intelligent and capable of independent thought. He was stifled on the Island. Grebe, the child of pushy, ambitious parents, is much more in tune with herself. She knows who she is. All she wants is somewhere where she can be who she is. The bond between the two is deep, but there are obvious conflicts they need to work through.

But this isn't just a book about emotional relationships. Its real thrust covers genetics, cloning, and science used for profit. These are contemporary issues facing us all, and in particular teenagers, who will be the adults of the future tasked with making the kinds of decisions that will vitally affect the way we live our lives. So Allen-Grey's dystopian society is very relevant to the one that we are shaping today and the one her readers will be shaping tomorrow. There's a lot to think about, and it's being discussed in many books for young people very successfully. Lifegame is a great addition to the stable. It has a tense and absorbing plot with all sorts of red herrings and clues leading up to the eventual denouement. Just guessing how it's all going to turn out is going to incite a great deal of internal debate and discussion.

Add some great characterisation and a perfectly odious villain, and you've got a book they'll not only enjoy but that will remain in their thoughts long after they've finished reading. Recommended for all teenagers who enjoy topical issues, sci-fi, or simply a good, pacy adventure. That's most of them, then!

My thanks to the nice people at OUP for sending the book.

The Declaration by Gemma Malley looks at similar issues, is equally thrilling and features another engaging teen couple. Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a truly terrifying take on the theme and while utterly brilliant is perhaps only for the strongest of young stomachs. Cybernation by Erica Blaney deals with the same issues but has more of a fantasy focus.

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Buy Lifegame by Alison Allen-Gray at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lifegame by Alison Allen-Gray at


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