I can't believe I sat through this entire book.
This is an example of what happens when an author tries to mimic a YA dystopian future, but doesn't flesh out the world enough. This is what happens when the author concentrates on all the wrong aspects completely. This is also what happens when the author puts in a very shoddy and superficial love triangle, has the main character make constantly bad decisions (despite being supposedly "clever" and "flawless", by the admissions of everyone else around her), and manages to cram far too much content into too few pages.
It's disappointing, really, because the first chapter was really well-written. The world seemed well thought-out, it was a novel idea, but by gods that's where it ended. About two-thirds of the way through the book, it felt like the author had no real idea what she was doing, and it just felt like an utter trainwreck by the end of it. With a sequel planned, no less.
Here's the setting, then: the book is set in a world where people are branded for being "Flawed". That's for making morally unethical decisions - be it lying, stepping out of line of society, stealing from society (that's also in a metaphorical sense, too, which leads to all sorts of trouble). It also includes helping out another Flawed person.
In this world, Flawed people are treated like subhumans. They are constantly monitored, are bound by a strict curfew, must stick to a diet of bland food, are despised by the rest of society, and no more than two of them are allowed to be together at one time.
Oh, and they are *physically* branded when they become flawed - the courts have a branding iron placed upon a part of their body, branding the letter F on their body, and they must wear a red armband so everyone knows they are Flawed.
The first chapter of the book begins with our main character witnessing one of their close friends being arrested for being Flawed, for no other reason than because she took her ailing mother to a different country to administer euthanasia to them. So far, so good. We can already tell that the justice system is fucked up. Tell me more.
Our main character is called Celestine North. She's a model member of society and is deemed to be near-perfect. Class-A student.
What happens is that she sees an old man suffering on a bus, and helps him to his seat. An old man who is Flawed. By doing so, she has aided a Flawed person, and is deemed Flawed herself. And punished accordingly.
Despite being only 17, the major courts are very angry at her and have her branded 5 times at different places on her body (mainly because this becomes a very public case for the media, her father works in the media as well), especially when she refuses to admit that she was wrong.
This, uh, seems a bit excessive.
Not to mention that the main villain, Judge Crevan, goes further and puts a sixth brand on her spine without anaesthetic, which is quite illegal and fucked up.
Basically, that chapter was very hard to read and is mainly about the main character being tortured excessively because that's apparently the only way the author can make this impact upon us.
This part also takes half of the book.
We already know this happens from the synopsis on the back of the book. By the time it happens, the book is half over. Uh...I'm sure you could have made your book a bit longer? It hardly feels like anything happened except Celestine's court case...
Somehow, the next half of the book concentrates on how Celestine finds a way to fight back against this tyrannical organisation. Almost as if she's hardly weakened at all from being branded six times and subjected to prejudice and torture. There's also a graphic bullying scene which is also very hard to read through.
You're telling me that this one character has been put through to hell and back and, without even a thought for her own safety or anything, immediately starts trying to bring down Judge Crevan for administering that sixth brand illegally - I mean we could have some more thoughts from herself on the matter, maybe? Just a little? It just felt like she did it for terms of plot alone...
Nothing was fleshed out enough. There's another Flawed boy called Carrick, and Celestine somehow falls for him. They say one sentence to each other. That's all. Yet she somehow spends most of the book searching him out because she feels a connection to him - she doesn't even KNOW him. it's ridiculous.
Which makes one love triangle after another - her boyfriend Art who mysteriously disappears after her trial, then comes back, then finds out she is going to a party with another boy, then throws a jealous fit and disappears (and he NEVER returns again). And then another love triangle with Art and her sister?? Are you serious? Why put him in the book at all?!
There are also so many plot holes because apparently criminals have a separate justice system of their own, and once they serve their time, they get to have a normal life. As in, they're not Flawed. It doesn't make sense. How can you make someone Flawed for helping another Flawed being, and say that makes them lower than a murderer? Why is the criminal not also Flawed? It makes no sense at all...
A lot of the book was also based on the political impact.
This is where the book really fails, because Celestine is made out to be this great paragon of a rebellion against the organisation, even though nothing like that actually happens. If the book had been twice as long and the rebellion happened near the end, then maybe it would have made sense...but barely anything is fleshed out at all! It's somehow fast-paced without anything happening.
Like, her teachers at school refuse to teach her because she's Flawed. The one teacher who agrees to home-school her turns out to have political motives for her to speak at some kind of gathering of the Flawed and it just gets ridiculous. I got the impression that the Flawed aren't allowed to have gatherings like this, but apparently it's legal? There wasn't enough detail about any of this at all.
Oh, and don't get me started on Celestine herself.
She makes so many bad decisions. She goes around poking her nose into all of these situations which would see her in tons of trouble, and gets almost nothing for her efforts. She is easily tricked into attending a party by one of her classmates (who then kidnaps her and locks her in a shed to try and make her miss her curfew). And she keeps trying to search for that one guy called Carrick for no real reason other than because he was her age and happened to be in the same cell as her. (Again, they never said a word to each other.)
I see a lot of people hating on Celestine, but she's not a terrible character. She's just extremely bland and not that compelling of a protagonist. Her sister, Juniper, is actually rebellious and seems to know what to do, and I'm surprised that she doesn't have a bigger part to play. Her granddad is cool too. It's like everyone except Celestine is a decent character.
Near the end, the story dives into ever-more ridiculous territory as Celestine somehow single-handedly starts a riot just by standing up to a police officer (just one), has a long extended conversation with her teacher's Flawed husband (he appears just one chapter before the end and yet talks for several pages about plot-important stuff, even though he is also really drunk at the time and I couldn't take anything seriously here), and finally we discover that the other judges are turning on Judge Crevan and are willing to help out Celestine if they join their side.
Like, all these people are so willing to help Celestine. It's not as if she's alone. All these political sides everywhere, except I don't care at all because the author has forgotten to flesh out all of the other parts of the world. It just doesn't add up at all. It's just a really badly-written dystopian future (it feels more like a dystopian present) and so little is left out.
I don't know why Celestine acts so stupidly throughout the book, yet everyone excuses her actions and says what a clever girl she is because she studied mathematics. (The teacher's husband tells her that she can use mathematics to work out how to get out of her situation. I did mathematics at university. He's an idiot.) I don't know why the author chose to delve into the political side and leave out everything that could have been interesting.
I don't understand the reason for the terribly-written love triangle, or the love interest that never appears until the end, or the boyfriend who disappears in the second half of the book, or the desire to make the villains so ridiculously evil and sadistic that I can't take anything seriously anymore.
By the end of it, I had come to the conclusion that this book is so bad that it's good. And good god, I am not reading the sequel.