Monday, June 11, 2007

Summer Reading: Damn the man, save Isaura

My lil sis recommended Pucker, by Melanie Gideon, and it wasn't until two days after I finished reading it that I realized what made the book so disturbing. I mean, besides this part (If your name is Emily's Mom, don't read this. Seriously. It describes someone's face being burned off.):

"The top layers of my skin hung from my face like a giant sheet of wax. Cook would later tell me that I had no idea my face was aflame. I was cupping my chin as if I had just vomited and was trying to get to the bathroom before it splattered all over the floor" (28-29).

OK, so obviously, this book is about a burn victim, but it's a little more complicated than that, because, specifically, this book is about a burn victim from a distopian world called Isaura whose mother drags him through a portal to America (hospitals! McDonalds! motorcycles!). There she supports the two of them by reading people's futures from the comfort of her creepy, invalid bedroom. Then on page 5 she tells her son, now 17-year-old Thomas, that he's going to have to go back to Isaura and get something she left behind. It's actually a body part, but I don't want to get into that here.

Thomas figures he can sneak back into Isaura because Isaurians have a creepy policy of targetting desperate, suicidal, disfigured, terminally ill people and making them an offer: Come do manual labor for Isuara and we'll cure your disability. But you have to stay in Isaura. And do whatever we tell you. Forever.

Thomas crosses the border with a pair of conjoined twins, a girl whose skin can't be exposed to sunlight, an obese man, and a woman in a wheel chair. But he gets sidetracked from the mission his mother has assigned him, because as soon as his face is healed, he's hot, and all the girls want to make out with him. Except, of course, the one girl he wants.

What's so disturbing about the book is that Isaura is your classic distopia--rigid, idyllic, static. People are neatly stratified, technology is firmly resisted, and books are strictly forbidden. Everyone's "happy." It's just the kind of society whose elaborate facade is supposed to be ripped off by a noble freedom fighter to reveal the dirty machinations going on behind the scenes. But at the end of the novel, the facade is still intact. Thomas thinks the government is up to something shady, but what he perceives as a political plot turns out to be a very personal betrayal.

I don't want to spoil anything here, but I really want other people to read this and tell me if it doesn't confirm the paranoid teenage conclusions that 1) you can't change the world and 2) everyone is watching you. Not to mention, 3) your parents really did do something to ruin your life when you were about 5 years old so you should just blame all your problems on them.

That isn't exactly a criticism. I appreciate the deep pessimism of this book. In fact, I was a little disappointed that the ending wasn't even darker, as well as a little more drawn out and painful. As it is, it's the kind of book that creeps up on you, makes you a little uncomfortable, and leaves you a little dissatisfied. If I thought the author did all that intentionally, I'd be even more impressed.

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