Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: Slated by Teri Terry

Teri Terry
Nancy Paulsen Books
352 pages
ISBN 978-0-399-16172-8
$17.99 ($19.00 CAN)

Slated is a dystopian young adult book which takes place some thirty years in the future. Unlike many dystopian books, the world depicted doesn’t differ in major ways from ours. The differences in this UK is not easily or immediately seen but they are there. There are terrorists, missing children, government anti-terrorist groups, untrustworthy officials, mental hospitals and --oh, yes!-- Slated children. The “slated” are people, usually children, who have had their memories erased as punishments for crimes. These slated people are kept in hospitals until they are deemed ready for the outside world. After they are released (or semi-released) they are placed in schools and families in the hope they will fit into their communities. The Slated, of course, have forgotten their past lives and most are happy at their second chance of life. However, sometimes slating doesn’t quite work. . . especially if one is special, like Kyla Davis.

The world depicted in the book is recognizable, probably too recognizable. Slated is never boring but something is lacking --not merely the main character’s missing-but-slowly-returning memory.The enjoyment of Slated depends on what the reader is looking for. Slated might seem slow and unsatisfying for those who seek out speculative fiction for the joys of worldbuilding. Those who like a mystery will find the reveal at the end of the book unsatisfying, too little too late, or a bit “meh”. But those who are interested in the psychological ramifications of trusting others or of navigating a larger and unknown culture will like it.

The main character’s lack of memory makes the story claustrophobic and helps turn a sci-fi dystopian story into a mystery. Not so much a Who-done-it? but a What-might-I-have-done? Who-can-I-trust? And-who-am-I? The main character is placed in a position where she has to accept many “givens.” Whether adopted into a family or born into it, the typical teenager understands how she fits into the household. Not so Kyla who has to take the word of her handler, Dr Lysander, about her new family.

Learning to navigate the spectrum of trust is often examined in art but Teri Terry includes the additional teenage coming-of-age trope of self-discovery.  The main character Kyla has to integrate herself into a culture she doesn’t understand while being essentially an alien or an isolated immigrant. She has to figure out how to figure people out and to learn who really wants to help her. The subtext of being an immigrant is also accompanied by the subtext of being learning disabled.  Anyone who has ever felt like a stranger in her own skin or who has felt somewhat lost and confused about the world will understand the character’s battle.

Much is revealed in the last sections of the book and much is left hidden from the main narrator, and thus from the reader. The main character has discovered her true self and now understands who is (or has) been trying to manipulate her. She has a goal now. Her goal is not to save the world or to discover the extent of the government manipulation. For all she --or the reader-- knows, the problem is global. But the goal is important to her, and the goal is enough to make the reader reach for the entire trilogy. Slated shows the best and worst aspects of the first book in a trilogy. The character’s goal has been prepared, the journey begins. But the author chose to hide much of the story until the end, which feels somewhat manipulative. Still, it’s a good book and adults and teenagers who like dystopian trilogies should like it.Recommended.   
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