I have read several of Ahern’s adult books, so was intrigued when on NetGalley I noticed this YA near-future dystopian offering from her.
Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan. But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED. In a society in which perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished, Celestine decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.
This is a near-future where multi-national corporations and the worldwide banking systems have crashed due to, apparently, the rash and ill-advised actions of their reckless managers. To avoid such chaos happening again, the Guild has devised a set of social and personal codes that people live by – and if they infringe those rules and make a mistake, they are branded and permanently ostracised by the rest of society. They are no longer able to eat the same food as everyone else, they have to sit in designated seats and their brands have to be uncovered for all to see. But, of course, nothing like that will ever happen to Celestine – she is dating the Chief Judge’s son, Art; her family are well placed in society and she has all the advantages of a privileged background. How could she ever be so stupid as to throw it all away?
Ahern deftly pulls us into the middle of this drama without holding up the pace with too much explanation, which is a lot trickier to pull off than she makes it look. We hit the ground running during a special get-together that suddenly goes horribly wrong – and forces Celestine to confront a whole raft of uncomfortable truths about her life and the situation around her.
The transformation from a sheltered, naïve and self-centred teen into someone far more sharply aware of the faultlines in a very unfair system is nicely handled. I liked the fact that Celestine initially flails around, terrified and overwhelmed at the enormity of what has been done to her, but gradually moves on from that. It would have been all too easy to have turned her into a rebel leader, or had her immobilised with the trauma of the experience. For me, the strength of the book lies in Celestine’s profound wish to get back to some kind of normality – something we all yearn for when it is yanked away from us…
There is a strong supporting cast. I liked the fact she comes from a caring family, who stand right by her and do their best to support her – her mother is fabulous. I also enjoyed the conflicted relationship she has with her sister, which rang very true.
The only misgiving I have is Ahern’s handling of the main antagonist. His complete loss of control didn’t convince me. While the story arc does work, I think it could have been tighter if he had stayed more lethally effective throughout. I get a tad fed up with unsubtle antagonists making fundamental errors in YA and Children’s fiction – not only does it often create a flabby story arc, it also gives youngsters a false sense of security about the nature of those willing to step outside the rules. They are not all pantomime villains.
That said, while it is a personal peeve, I don’t necessarily think it has undermined the overall story too much. This is, after all, far more about Celestine’s personal journey than what is done to her – and overall, it is a strong, enjoyable tale.
The ebook arc copy of Flawed was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.