Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. The Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously.
But Nine isn't like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day -- her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they'll be.
When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom
Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is
pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test
her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?
I've had my eye on this book for quite some time, ever since I first saw it at the local Deseret Bookstore. When I got it for Christmas, I was thrilled!
Gender is a hot-button cultural issue with many psychological and religious, even political, undertones. Thus, I was very impressed to see an author of faith had taken it on. That's brave. People of faith aren't politically popular right now, unless you're the Pope. And wearing it on your sleeve can earn you plenty of condemnation from your peers. Sure enough, when I went to rate this book FIVE STARS on Goodreads, I ended up exposed to plenty of negative, even angry, reviews. Fortunately, there are enough glowing reviews to land it very near to four whole stars cumulatively.
But this is an Afterglow Review, and this review blog is reserved for those books that wow-ed you, impressed you, or changed you, leaving you somehow better. Remake did that for me. I read it with my husband, which made me blush a bit in the particularly gushy parts, but definitely made the humor more fun. The mystery of it left us speculating and predicting throughout the book as we tried to figure out exactly why Nine is the way she is, so different from everyone else, and what the Prime Maker would do with her if she didn't do what was expected.
The part that impacted me, though, was the artful articulation of the true meaning and joy of FAMILY. It is, after all, what this book is all about. It ponders the questions, "Is family important? Necessary? Desirable? Or is it restrictive of freedom, oppressive of women, and inciting to revolution?"
For those of us who advocate for the continued protection of the natural family (I include myself as a homeschool mom who advocates for parents rights), family means something more to us than it seems to mean to those who believe a child is better off as a ward of the state. It means bundles of pride and joy, to be sure, but it also means mutual sacrifice, deep and abiding love, and an eternal sense of belonging that goes beyond all other affiliations in your life. Not everyone feels this way about family, and not everyone has had a beautiful experience in her own family. It can be difficult for family-lovers to articulate exactly why the family unit is worth protecting and proliferating.
Ilima Todd gently and with plenty of awkward humor, helps us discover the depth of meaning in the family pattern through the eyes of an androgynous girl without family who is fostered into a tight-knit, God-fearing, and hard-working family. From her new mother, she learns what a mother even is, that it's sometimes a painful role to play, and that her impact with a few whispered words can reach her children months later across an ocean. From her new father, she learns how fathers and mothers lead together, how the love of parents is the glue that binds the whole family together, and how to lead with love. From her new siblings, she learns that you can be happy no matter your circumstances, that complaining makes things a lot worse, and that everybody in the family has work they can do for the good of all.
Even though Nine is eased into this new life, it is still very alien to her, having grown up in a batch of genetically engineered children as the social pariah with only one best friend to protect her from ceaseless teasing. She weighs the good and the bad in what she sees, and struggles with concepts like freedom vs. loyalty or choice vs. acceptance of things that aren't easily changed. All she's ever wanted her entire life is to change who she is completely so she can be more like her best friend in every way, even down to his gender. She mistakenly believes that strength and courage are male traits. Right up to the last chapter, the reader must wonder what she will choose to be. Even if you disagree with the Biblical and historic definitions of family, this story will allow you to explore what a world would be like where children aren't considered their parents' charges and natural birth within families is not only discouraged, but illegal.
A good dystopia shows us ourselves in a fun-house mirror to make us think about the distortions and what the real picture is and should be. Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games forced us to realize the disgusting glamorization of violence in our entertainment by inventing a society where war and entertainment were one and the same. Ilima Todd has shown us our disregard for family stewardship, parents rights, and a child's need for the complementary and different abilities of both parents by inventing a society that isolates children from any constant caregivers, punishes parents for procreating and systematically sterilizes new citizens of a city ironically called Freedom 1.
In one particularly haunting conversation with the Prime Maker, Nine asks herself, "And what if I choose to be me?"